An unfortunate trend has emerged in Santa Barbara. Developers, often seeking to maximize development on lots that are too small to accommodate them, are able to get by Santa Barbara’s traditional review process. A recent proposal to build 550 apartments on the Sears lot may be an example.
When a proponent of development states that they are seeking the “highest and best use” of a property, as did the representative of the Sears property owners, duck and hang on to your hat. You can expect a whopper of a development proposal.
Upper State Street has been victimized by several oversized, lot-consuming, poorly masked, bulky and unattractive projects in recent years. The Galleria, now Target, was one of the first oversized structures altering the look and feel of the Upper State Street area. It has no parking. With the Sears lot gone, the lack of parking will undoubtedly become more apparent.
The large and bulky structure housing Fidelity Investments, also on Upper State, followed the Galleria’s lead. With the step-down on the front side of the structure, it is a perfect example of poorly masked bulk.
Further down Hope Street, between La Cumbre Plaza and car dealerships, another oversized structure is rising on a relatively small lot. The good news is that the Gardens on Hope will provide affordable housing for seniors. The bad news is that the exterior of this prow-shaped monster literally hugs the sidewalk. I’m not sure where they are planning to hide the “Gardens.”
Further down State, the Hyatt Place, another lot-consuming behemoth, has replaced the humble Hope Ranch Motel. I don’t think a larger development could possibly be crammed onto that lot. The developer is utilizing different shades of paint to mask its charmless, bulky facade.
The word is out in Santa Barbara: Cram, jam, shoehorn … just get them in, and to hell with the consequences. Short-term goals appear to have replaced Santa Barbara’s longer-term sensibilities.
The king of the oversized, bulky behemoths on Upper State is the Estancia, which replaces the gentle, single-story Sandman Inn. Of all the projects being built on Upper State, it is probably the most unattractive and oversized of all. It completely dominates the lot, is too tall, and destroys views. In my opinion it does absolutely nothing to enhance Upper State.
How did this ugly, lot-consuming collection of buildings get approved?
Considering the history of recent developments on Upper State, what can we expect the construction of 550 apartments on the Sears lot to look like? I think we can assume the structures will be bulky, lot-consuming, oversized and unattractive. The Sears lot sits at a higher altitude, which means the development could be in-your-face ugly with staying power.
Making matters worse, the city’s high-density housing ordinance will drastically reduce parking requirements on the site. One must ask why we are considering a high-density, Los Angeles-style development (550 units) with inadequate parking in Santa Barbara. The nearby Target has insufficient parking, and with the obliteration of the Sears parking lot, traffic and parking issues will be fairly significant in the Upper State Street area.
Generally, government services to residential areas cost more than the tax revenues derived. Proposition 13 also applies to apartments. Tax rates are only reassessed, under Prop. 13, when the property is sold. If apartments are to replace Sears, tax revenues to the city may decline.
A development of this size will almost certainly conflict with Santa Barbara’s historic sensibilities. As long as the population continues to grow, we will never have enough housing in Santa Barbara. With an expanding population, any housing that is built is soon gone.
The endless high demand for housing causes prices to rise. Substandard properties begin to command larger rents. Anybody not making a good deal of money is liable to end up homeless. When labor is abundant, wages decline. When labor is dear, wages rise.
Cesar Chavez, founder of the United Farm Workers union, was well aware of this. He strongly opposed illegal immigration. Housing prices will similarly decline when the population stabilizes.
We will never solve our housing problems until we get control of immigration. Population growth in the United States is almost entirely the result of immigration. It is long past time the United States implemented a population policy, and got serious about maintaining an ideal population level.
Sure, we are a country of immigrants, but immigration needs to be legal and sustainable. If stabilization does not occur, we can pretty much count on a declining quality of life in California.
Where is Pearl Chase when you need her?
The author lives in Santa Barbara.