When Carpinterians wake up Wednesday morning, they could be facing a whole new reality when it comes to their downtown’s future look, feel and image. Or not.
It depends on whether the majority of the city’s 8,103 registered voters approved the Measure T ballot initiative or rejected it when they went to the polls Tuesday.
Ostensibly the measure is only about preventing a specific project, a proposed two-story boutique hotel with rooftop bar, from being built on a specific site, Downtown Parking Lot 3 near the railroad tracks and the ocean, by changing its zoning status to open space/recreation.
But it’s blossomed into so much more than that.
Mistrustful of their city’s leaders’ intentions, Vote Yes on Measure T proponents aim to stop the project cold, before it even reaches the City Council for possible approval. They claim allowing the project to be built downtown would uproot the adjacent Community Garden, block ocean views, create noise and worst of all, open the door for private development on public property.
The Vote Yes on Measure T group declined to contribute to this story.
But Ann Sly, a Vote Yes spokeswoman, told the News-Press previously that passing Measure T “will allow Carpinterians to decide how public land is used, preserve the essential character of our small beach town, and prevent the slippery slope of development.”
The majority of voters are opposed to commercial development on public land, she said.
“They would rather see the parking lot remain as it is,” she said. “They understand that this kind of development is a slippery slope and Carpinteria would be changed forever. Once developed, there is no going back.”
Measure T opponents, however, say resorting to costly, lengthy and unwieldy ballot initiatives to make land-use decisions is wrong, and that it’s better to adhere to Carpinteria’s General Plan, permit city staff to do its job reviewing projects and allow duly-elected members of the City Council to do their job making decisions on behalf of the city and its residents.
“Measure T is not what it says it is,” Vote No spokesman Jason Rodriguez told the New-Press. “Don’t be taken advantage of by voting for one thing when what you are being told is something completely different. This is not about a hotel; this is about our General Plan and changing it without any public hearings or due process.
“If you love Carpinteria how it is, don’t vote for a measure that changes the General Plan. For decades, our General Plan has kept Carpinteria from becoming a Los Angeles beach town.
“Follow the people who know how this process works to lead you on how to vote. Our community representatives from both sides of the aisle. All agree that changing the rules of the game as you play it never leads to a good outcome. It’s a short-term answer that causes long-term problems.”
The months-long campaign has divided the community, with the two sides trading accusations of deception and misleading statements, in addition to tearing down each other’s campaign signs.
So what will happen if Measure T passes?
It depends on who you ask.
Based on prior interviews with Ms. Sly, their answer is pretty clear.
The city’s iconic downtown, with its retail stores, eateries, antique shops, theater and arts center will remain the same, without the prospect of some mammoth structure – the Surfliner Inn or another one – looming over its streets and blocking their ocean views.
Parking Lot # 3 will continue to be used by residents and tourists to access the beach.
The city’s water supply won’t be further depleted because there will be no hotel guests to drink it or bathe in it.
The beloved Community Garden will stay where it is – untouched – bringing people closer to the land and the food and plants that spring from it.
And while city leaders will continue to decide most land-use matters following the usual review process, they will be duly warned that if a majority of residents oppose a particular project, they can – and will – resort to a ballot initiative if need be to be heard.
The Vote No on Measure T group, however, sees a different future if the ballot initiative passes.
First and foremost, they say it would impose sweeping changes to how the city 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.
The measure, they say, would change zoning affecting every open parcel in the city, and while it might indeed prevent commercial development, it would open the door to high-density multi-family residential construction on existing open spaces.
The Community Garden, they insisted, was no longer in jeopardy because the project’s developers had revised their plans to leave it alone.
“Short-term the visual changes won’t be significant at all,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “There will still be broken-down vehicles and a high population of transients frequenting the parking lot. The corner of the parking lot will continue to smell like urine and have transients laying around.
“As for the long-term, the State of California has told our city that by 2031 we need to show the state where we will allow them to develop 901 units of multi-residential housing. Once the zoning and parking requirements change on all 120+ acres of our Open Space Recreational properties (that’s one of the things Measure T does), the state will have additional options as to where they can force us to put some of these 901 units. Good luck trying to tell the state to stay away from certain properties, we will never win that legal battle.’
Regarding residents’ resorting to ballot initiative if they think their elected officials aren’t listening to them. Mr. Rodriguez said the important thing to note here is that the elected officials are listening.
“There are over 13,000 people who reside in Carpinteria. Of the vocal advocates for Measure T, the ones who show up to City Council meetings, they make up approximately 30 people. So, the four of the five City Council members who are protecting Carpinteria against Measure T are the ones who are keeping the majority of their constituents in mind.
“Lastly, yes, a ballot measure for land use planning is a bad idea. Read our endorsements to understand why every elected official from federal to local has said exactly that,” he said..
So what happens if Measure T is defeated?
Again, based on prior interviews, Vote Yes on Measure T supporters would say it would embolden city leaders to approve the Surfliner Inn or another project in its place, creating a “slippery slope” for private development on public land in Carpinteria, including downtown, which would jeopardize its appearance and disrupt its “small town charm.”
They say the Community Garden could still be harmed, because the developers never altered their plans filed with the city.
And, perhaps worst of all, city leaders would conclude that they can pretty much vote as they please, supporting developers at the expense of the people, without concern that a ballot initiative could be filed to overturn their decisions.
Vote No supporters say the city’s General Plan will continue to act as the city’s best line of defense against development.
“The process of having any project go through checks and balances, public input, and approvals by multiple boards, commissions, and councils stay in place,” Mr. Rodriguez said.
“What I tell everyone is that even if they don’t want the hotel, still vote No on T because that keeps any other development in the future having to play by the same rules that have been in place forever.
“Don’t forget, we as a people have always loved Carpinteria, and it’s because we have never allowed a measure like T to dictate our General Plan, which is the secret ingredient to keeping to our city’s vision. You destroy the General Plan, you destroy the blueprint that the City was built on.”