The Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously Monday to make it easier for the Single Family Design Board to meet its quorum.
The council voted to reduce the number of board members from seven to five. And the number to meet a quorum is now three members instead of four.
In addition, the council agreed that the board only needs one licensed architect as a member and that the licensed architect need not be present at every meeting. So the quorum can be achieved even when that architect is absent.
The board meets on a biweekly basis.
The newly constituted board will consist of the licensed architect, up to three members with professional qualifications in a related field, and up to three members from the public at large. The goal was to give the council the utmost flexibility in appointing new board members.
The only requirement approved by the council besides that one member be a licensed architect is that whoever is picked to serve from the public at large be a city resident. Applicants with professional qualifications must live in Santa Barbara County but not necessarily the city.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon said it was important that any member from the public at large be a city resident because that person knows best the impact a newly built or redesigned home could have on a given neighborhood.
“No one cares more about the hillside than those who live on the hillside,” she said.
Councilmember Mike Jordan noted the importance of having at least one licensed architect on the board.
“There is a value an architect brings that you and I can’t see,” he said, noting that an architect’s technical expertise allows him or her to see in “three dimensions” the designs being contemplated “to make projects better accomplish what they want to do and protect the neighborhood.”
He said it’s important to preserve the council’s flexibility in choosing board members up to and including whether to pick three people with architect-related qualifications and one person from the public at large or vice versa.
“It’s an opportunity for the council to get what it wants,” he said.
Mayor Randy Rowse said he supported the board’s membership being reduced from seven to five.
“More nimble boards are good, especially with quorum issues.” he said. “It keeps the process moving forward, which answers the bulk of complaints by the community.”
Before the council vote, Senior Planner Ellen Kokinda said the changes in membership and quorums was necessary to retain members, who often don’t realize the tremendous time commitment when first appointed. The result of a single member being absent because of illness or, at least until now, the licensed architect not being available, is that there are not enough members left to meet quorum, causing her to cancel a meeting.
This not only frustrates homeowners who might be going through a design review process for the first time in their lives, but means the five cases scheduled for that day must somehow be wedged into an already cramped schedule of upcoming meetings.
The Single Family Design Board was created to make sure design changes to homes in terms of size, bulk, scale, architecture and materials that are compatible with the overall appearance of the neighborhood, Ms. Kokinda said.
“This is a really difficult job, dealing with all the changes while hearing what the public is saying,” she said, noting that the process is definitely subjective.
At the same time, she said, “we don’t want to subject people to the process just for process sake.”
She said it was important the council act immediately to address “acute issues” of membership recruitment and retention and quorum. She said the job is “a ton of work,” and that as a result, the city does not receive as many applications as it would like to fill the board and streamline the review process.
“It’s a huge commitment,” she said. “It really limits us in some ways. It’s one of the most difficult boards to serve on.”
On the one hand, she said, you’ve got homeowners who might appear before such a board once in a lifetime trying to build their dream home or make a major overhaul to the house they already have.
“They may not know zoning or land use or design, and it’s so daunting,” she said. On the other hand, “the board has to listen to all of the neighborhood challenges, which are often extremely emotionally loaded.”
The design board is currently down to five appointed members due to consistently low turnout in applications and resignation of members outside of the regular advisory group recruitment cycle.
To remedy recruitment and retention challenges, staff often have to request existing SFDB members to voluntarily serve beyond their appointed term.