Two groups discuss Parking Lot 3 preservation vs. new hotel
It looks like an ordinary parking lot, a rectangular slab of asphalt with the innocuous name of Parking Lot 3 — separated from others of its ilk only by its proximity to some railroad tracks running along the perimeter of downtown Carpinteria, and the plant and vegetable community garden right next door.
But there’s also its location, sitting just a few blocks from an ocean beach, making it a parking haven for locals and a heavy dose of tourists during the summer.
And right now, Parking Lot 3 is known mostly as the focus of a political debate slated to be resolved this Election Day.
One group of residents is determined to preserve downtown open space by changing its zoning status to block a proposed two-story boutique hotel with rooftop pool and bar from being built on Parking Lot 3.
Another group opposing their efforts is equally committed to allowing the normal planning process, city general plan and city council consideration to decide the issue rather than resort to city governance by ballot initiative.
And the debate is growing so heated that no one will notice the unofficial end of summer marked by Labor Day. Residents are concerned that the outcome could very well determine the future look and feel of the city’s picturesque downtown, with its mix of antique stores, retail shops and assorted restaurants, as well as affect the city’s reputation as a beachside community loaded with small town charm.
The first group, Save Our Downtown Open Space, fired the first salvo earlier this summer with a press release urging voters to sign its petition to place an initiative — Measure T2022 — on the Nov. 8 ballot to rezone the lot, located at Linden Avenue and Fifth Street, from general commercial to open space/recreational.
At the time, the group said its focus was to stop the city from giving a well-utilized public property to a developer for private gain, saving downtown open spaces from traffic and congestion, protecting the community’s finite water supply, preserving the community garden, keeping mountain views for all to enjoy, and maintaining Carpinteria’s small town charm as well as the look and feel of its famed beach neighborhood.
The group enjoyed center stage for a few weeks, with letters of support written by various community members making the same talking points: Vote yes to protect Carpinteria’s public land, preserve downtown open space. save the community garden, prevent large-scale commercial development of the downtown, and perhaps most of all, keep Carpinteria small.
Only one minor flap disrupted their campaign, when Mayor Wade Nomura wrote a letter criticizing the Save Open Space group for including his comments in a campaign ad making it appear as if he endorsed their position.
“That is not correct and is misleading,” he said. All he meant, he said, was that he was committed to letting voters decide the issue.
The comments, stated at an August 2021 special Carpinteria City Council meeting, read as follows: “I am definitely not opposed to the initiative, and I hope this goes forward … We are here to be certain that all of the information is complete, and, for that reason, I feel it is important to move this action forward to make sure we gather enough information and give it to the public, for or against, so they are as informed as the rest of us.”
Annie Sly, spokeswoman for SOS, stands by the group’s decision to include his comment.
“It’s a direct quote from something he said,” she told the News-Press. “Those were his words.”
Nevertheless, SOS did not include his comments in future campaign ads.
But other than that, it was smooth sailing for the pro-initiative forces, until one letter, then another, appeared blasting the Vote Yes on Measure T forces for misleading residents, that most of the mountain views will not only be preserved but enhanced by the hotel project, that the initiative could have “serious, negative impacts,” including allowing high-density housing on land designated for open space, and prevent an increase in parking spaces.
Opponents also insisted the hotel project will not only maintain but enhance the “small town charm we all enjoy,” thus claiming that issue as their own.
Then suddenly, just a few weeks ago, a well-organized opposition burst onto the scene, when a “Vote No on Measure T” group emerged, posting its own campaign ads and releasing its own press release announcing that a bipartisan coalition of local small business owners and community leaders had formed a “No On Measure T 2022” political action committee.
“No On Measure T will seek to defeat the deceptive and misleading Measure T on the ballot this November,” the group said. “No On Measure T contends that the campaign for Measure T has used misinformation to deceptively persuade voters to approve the measure.
“The more we looked at Measure T and the disingenuous messaging around it, the more we knew we had to act,” said Jason Rodriguez, principal officer of No on Measure T 2022. “This measure would upend the local decision-making process, so we will make sure every voter has the opportunity to fully understand the unmitigated disaster Measure T represents.”
The No on Measure T committee said that if approved, Measure T will threaten open space with housing developments and prohibit improvements at local parks and recreation-zoned properties. Overall, the committee said, the measure would impose sweeping changes to how the city of Carpinteria plans and approves development proposals and has the potential to remove professional planners and elected representatives from the oversight and approval process that has been instrumental to protecting Carpinteria from overdevelopment.
“Carpinteria’s General Plan is the very reason we enjoy the last best beach community in California,” Mr. Rodriguez told the News-Press. “We can’t afford to gut the General Plan and eliminate the oversight and careful stewardship of our city, particularly when it comes to ensuring a vital downtown business district and protecting open space. No on Measure T is all about preserving our community by using existing tools that have proven capable and effective in keeping Carpinteria small, safe and, quite frankly, the envy of the world.”
Then in what could be a devastating blow to the Pro Measure T forces, four of five city council members issued a joint statement denouncing the initiative process, saying Measure T is unnecessary and misleading.
They said they’ve heard from homeowners, renters, local small business owners, environmentalists and longtime community leaders opposing Measure T.
“We have heard outrage at the misinformation being distributed,” they said. “The only threat to the community garden is Measure T2022 itself. The garden is under no threat from any development and will continue to be enjoyed by the public.”
They claimed the initiative, if approved, would make General Plan changes that could lead to the replacement of the garden by multifamily housing. “It does not prevent development of Parking Lot 3 but instead allows for its development with high density multi-family residential development and does not protect views, conserve water or preserve our small town charm.”
In response, Ms. Sly said the public process so far has failed to address overwhelming public opposition to private development on public land. And she told the News-Press that the initiative empowers voters to determine the use of downtown open space.
She said it does not prohibit construction of new parking and insisted it will not lead to housing being built on existing land designated for open space.
“A Yes vote protects and preserves these public properties from private development,” she said.
Finally, the third step of the opposition’s well-coordinated public outreach occurred when the proposed hotel’s developers gave a public presentation in which they said they would decrease the number of rooms that would be built and revise their plans to completely spare the community garden.
Undaunted, Ms. Sly dismissed the three opposition moves in short order.
The Vote No campaign, she said, represents the developers and private interests, whereas her group is an all-volunteer effort.
“They hope to build the hotel and profit from it,” she told the News-Press. “I do not think they will prevail on Election Day. The majority of voters are opposed to commercial development on public land. They would rather see the parking lot remain as it is. They understand that this kind of development is a slippery slope and Carpinteria would be changed forever.
“Once developed, there is no going back,” Ms. Sly said.
As for the council majority urging voters to vote no, she said they have made their position known for quite some time. “They have consistently voted to move the project through the planning process.” She qualified her statement by noting, “That is not to say that they approve of the plans as they stand, just that they want the process to move ahead.”
Nevertheless, she insisted their opposition does not deal a death blow to the measure at all.
“Over 1,000 Carpinterians signed the petition to get Measure T2022 on the ballot. That gives you a good idea of the majority opinion on this,” she said.
In addition, she said, “there are some people who dislike using the initiative process because opposition to commercial development on public land was falling on deaf ears.”
Regarding the developers’ willingness to reduce the number of hotel rooms being proposed, she understands the figure dropped from 40 to 39. “Hardly significant,” she said.
In fact, Ms. Sly said, “the developer fails to say exactly how many rooms are being planned for.”
As for the community garden not being touched, she said the developers’ plans submitted to the city show that 60 feet of community garden will be impacted. “Now the developer is saying there are new plans that will not impact the garden. It is clear what is happening. The No side is looking at our arguments and addressing them by saying the plans have been changed. To date, no new plans have been submitted to the city. These supposed changes are not official.”
That’s true, according to Syndi Souter, associate planner with the city’s Community Development Department.
“To date, revised plans have not been submitted to the city,” she told the News-Press.
Mayor Nomura did not respond to an email from the News-Press seeking clarification of his views on the issue, including whether his opposition to Measure T is inconsistent with his earlier statement that he would leave it up to the voters.
Vice Mayor Al Clark, the only council member not to sign the statement, did not respond to an email from the News-Press seeking clarification of his views, including whether he supports the proposed zoning change or whether he endorses a hands-off position pending the Election Day vote..
The News-Press asked both sides to present their bottom-line arguments, and give their opinions as to who the public should believe.
Ms. Sly told the News-Press that if Measure T passes:
— “Carpinterians will be able to decide how public land is used.”
— “In keeping with the general plan, it will preserve the essential character of our small beach town.”
— “It will prevent the slippery slope of development.”
“We have substantiated facts with citations/references from meetings, submitted plans, city-authored reports, and the like,” Ms. Sly said “Voters could fact-check for themselves, https://parkinglot3.org. Voters could visit protectcarp.com. I trust the voters of Carpinteria to vote in the best interests of the community.”
Mr. Rodriguez told the News-Press:
“Four out of five of our elected leaders are voting No on T. … Measure T is not a vote for or against the Surfliner, even if some folks want it to be. One does have to ask why they didn’t simply put ‘the Surfliner’ on the ballot?
“Governing by ballot is no way to run a city, “ he said. “The Carpinteria General Plan is what makes the area so attractive and has served us well for years. Our elected officials have done a splendid job in preserving Carpinteria. A disagreement by some on a land use issue is no reason to throw out oversight by the planning department and replace it with uncertainty fed by rumors and incorrect facts.
“The only way to undo a zoning change by initiative is to launch another initiative. Do we really want to collect signatures every time we want to make a zoning change?” Mr. Rodriguez said.
“If Measure T fails, the city will still have final say on what happens with Parking Lot No. 3 (and Parking Lot No. 4),” he said. “The process of permitting and building a hotel hasn’t even begun. It’s heavy handed to change the city’s zoning to stop something that hasn’t been submitted or considered by city planning.”
As for post-Election Day, both sides agree Carpinteria will move forward with no animosity from one side toward another.
“At the end of the day, we are all Carpinterians. There are no villains in this story,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “There is no nefarious plan. This is a city-led and envisioned project, answered by local developers who dug the concept and felt they could help make the vision happen.
Said Ms. Sly, “This is not war. These are opposing opinions. Carpinterians are used to having different opinions. There will be disappointment on Nov 9 but healing will happen.”