Did You Know? By Bonnie Donovan
Before discussing State Street, Did You Know? wants to congratulate all who participated in supporting the efforts to make Rocky Nook Park a Santa Barbara County Historic Landmark, and to thank the county Board of Supervisors, who listened to the voice of the people.
A tireless champion of the Mission Creek area, Rosanne Crawford states, “Rocky Nook Park with its natural setting and connection to Chumash place names and culture is the most authentic part and oldest heritage of the three adjacent landmarks. This now creates a whole interconnected timeline with Mission Historical Park Landmark and the Old Mission Landmark.” A strong example of how participation and standing your ground does work for the good of the whole.
Now, on to the state of State Street: Tess Harper and David Davis gave an update of the State Street Master Plan. We found it interesting amidst the back patting for their outreach efforts that after 5,000-6,000 participants in the surveys, that 79% want State Street to remain closed to cars, and 90% go downtown for food and drinks. The question “How many blocks should be closed?” wasn’t part of the survey.
The outreach was even conducted at schools where fifth through eighth graders were asked what they wanted on State Street. We heard them say a candy store and a soccer field. Wow. Tell that to a State Street investor or property owner.
What we found illuminating was that the three comparison cities used by MIG are nothing like Santa Barbara, at least not in the worldwide reputation for being a destination.
Of course, that may have been before the downturn. Today there are the vacant storefronts (52 empty out of 252) and the overpopulation of transients, some violent.
Another dissimilarity is that two of the three cities are not closed to vehicle traffic. San Luis Obispo (population 50,000) and Greenville, N.C., (pop. 70,000) are NOT closed to cars. And Pearl Street in Boulder, Co (pop. 100,000) is closed for only four blocks.
Why wouldn’t Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade be chosen for a comparison city and street?
The big question is: What will bring retail back to State Street, and will this three-ring circus bring enough paying customers to be fiscally sound? As it looks now, there is nothing stately, nor world class, about State Street.
A preview of what is fast becoming commonplace, and so sad for what is happening to Santa Barbara was on display during the Architectural Board of Review’s Jan. 23 meeting.
Every project passed for project design approval and/or final approval. All save the car wash on La Cumbre Road and the 6-unit AUD project at 515 W. Los Olivos St, were subpar, at least for the standards Santa Barbara used to be allowed to have. Of course, everything has changed with the implementation of Senate Bill 330, which determines that review boards have only five meetings to comment and give direction on a project, and must do so within 90 days.
The massive four-story, 82-unit project at 711 N. Milpas St., aka 701 N. Milpas St., received project design approval, with conditions, from the Architectural Board of Review.
Jarret Gorin represented the owners, loosely Alan Bleeker and Ed St. George.
Mr. Gorin, who in his usual fashion asked for more, made a failed attempt to ask the board to remove the word “shall” from its PDA motion.
The ABR’s responsibilities are so diminished, partly due to Sacramento’s legislation and the city of Santa Barbara’s project agreement with the owners, that the innocuous questions they valiantly still asked at this stage were about color, materials, solar and landscaping.
Vice Chair Richard Six did request the corner(s) be softened by moving a balcony to the corner instead of remaining in the middle, and he called it a missed opportunity when he was voted down by the board. The request to soften the corners to reduce massing had been made by the board repeatedly to the applicant.
And when checking the compatibility findings regarding mass, bulk, scale and compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood, all of that had already been decided by the Santa Barbara City Council.
However, “The public views and mountains have not been impacted,” doesn’t hold water if you are a Santa Barbara Junior High student, or an athlete who uses the field behind the project. Still, the attention and tweaking of the project made, at least on paper, for a better look than the schlock that was approved at 425 Garden St.
However, 425 Garden St. — another 4-story, 36-units development with rooftop amenities — is big, blocky, with concrete from lot line to lot line and looks like a white boring shoebox. It’s more fitting for what is being constructed in Oxnard. Resembling a shopping mall, or medical facility, it hardly looks like housing or a place to call home.
The project was 33 units in November 2021. Now it is 36.
Said the presenter, “The archway was moved back to be compatible with the (one-story) building next door.”
Nothing is memorable nor inviting about this design, nor was it compatible with adjoining East Haley Street nor Garden Street.
Haley Street, made of one and two-story buildings with a neighborhood industrial feel and dotted with motor courts, will go the way of Chapala Street, which used to evoke a western town, with one-story buildings and imaginary wooden boardwalks, before it turned into high-rise, high priced housing units. The outcome will be worse, because the thought, care and suggestions are not afforded to the applicants from the review boards.
The modern constraints where the number of units to make construction affordable, as chanted by the developers and the dictates being passed by Sacramento, outweighs the livability of these housing units, and takes the magic out of a beautiful and well thought building that stands the test of time and enchants the passerby.
And sadly, a sweet cul-de-sac at 414 W. Canon Perdido St. will lose some of its charm when the modern 2-unit ADU is plopped on the site, among the one-story Victorians.
Again, a box and a box with a triangle on top describes the project. What is even sadder, is that no public speakers, on Zoom or in person, spoke out against any of the projects. And public speakers are who let the boards know that people care about where they live.
Please speak up for the good of your neighborhood. Think of the projects that were better because of the neighbors’ input.
We have observed that the large housing projects in various cities, both in California and outside the state, read like a proliferation of a one-size-fits-all design to address the apparent problem of “housing shortages.”
Objective Design Standards encourage a “kit of parts,” which result in blocky buildings with the only differentiation of a splash of color, maybe with a cheap balcony or two. It is becoming an anonymous architecture — absent of style, where the neighborhoods and the cities are indistinguishable from the next.
They’re like the shopping centers built in the 1980-90s in the Nouveau Tuscan design, seen from the freeway from Camarillo to Gilroy. They all looked the same and were brought to the areas by out-of-town developers with little concern for the soul or identity of a place people call home. Modern-day carpetbaggers.
Bonnie Donovan writes the “Did You Know?” column in conjunction with a bipartisan group of local citizens. It appears Saturdays in the Voices section.