The Santa Barbara City Council unanimously recommended the Planning Commission approve increasing the Affordable Unit requirement in rental housing projects from 10% to 15% for all areas outside the Central Business District.
In those areas, the amendment would allow for developers to round down if they end up with a fraction of a unit that would be required to be moderate-income housing.
Approval must be given by the Planning Commission for it to go into effect.
Multiple council members said they don’t believe the Average Unit-size Density Incentive Multi-unit Housing Program is accomplishing what they believe it was meant to, which is provide more affordable units downtown and in the city at large.
“What we’re seeing right now, on the ground, is simply not producing what the goals of the program were,” said council member Jim Jordan. “We’re actually starting to see now a return to the condo-type of arrangement, say, at the bottom of Chapala, where we’re seeing a whole bunch of larger luxury units that then just meet the 10% burden of three or four… of middle-income units. That’s exactly what we strive to get away from.”
Mayor Cathy Murillo supported the recommendation of increasing the inclusionary percentage by 5%, but hesitated without the proper research proving it would help.
“I’m not comfortable going to 15% without the assurances of more data points and the study,” she said. “It’s easy to say that the program isn’t producing affordable units — that’s mostly because of the demise of redevelopment and we don’t have that income stream, so the more accurate conversation would be how do we create that revenue stream so that we can have affordable units?”
Citing a previous study, Renee Brooke, the city planner, said, “Consultants determined it would be slightly marginal for developers to build downtown with a 15% inclusionary requirement. It was really on the cusp.”
Council member Meagan Harmon stated that she opposes not including the CBD in the inclusionary requirement increase.
“I don’t love what it says to folks that if you don’t have a high enough income, that you’re going to be relegated to the outside of our downtown,” she said.
In conclusion of the discussion, Mr. Jordan addressed the housing issue as a whole.
“The real enemy here is time. I suspect that housing in downtown left un-incentivized to provide more affordable housing will continue to look like the top floor of the Granada,” he said. “It will continue to accelerate in value over time rather than blend into the rest of the city.”
If the 5% increase was to be approved, the process would take around three months before the requirement would go into effect, according to Ms. Brooke.
In other business, the council unanimously approved amending the city’s grading ordinance to address grading less than 50 cubic yards on hillside property. Additional verification will be needed for any grading projects within that frame.
“This has been a recurring issue in these hillside areas,” Mayor Pro Tempore Kristen Sneddon said. “It’s truly a safety issue.”
Members of the council also denied the second appeal by Blanca Benedict to remove a Nichols Willowleafed Peppermint Tree in the 2500 block of Castillo Street.
The Parks and Recreation Commission recommended to deny the appeal, citing that in its most recent visit to check on the health of the tree and connections between limbs, it found it to be pristine, and again did not see the sight-line issue.