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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

How SB's Latest Rental Development Scheme Could Remake Downtown into a Canyon of Tall Buildings

Sheila Lodge wrote the book -- literally -- about the history of planning policy in Santa Barbara, and she doesn't mince words about the latest bright idea before City Council to address our alleged "housing crisis."

The proposal, tagged with the beguiling name "Floor Area Ratio" (FAR), says the longtime Planning Commissioner and former Mayor, "should be dropped."

Policy wonk, urban planning author and Pearl Chase successor, Commissioner Lodge responded in a Newsmakers interview to to the current City Hall debate over FAR, an abstruse but hugely consequential idea to spur construction of rental housing, being pushed by architects, builders and a few pro-development council members.

As Josh Molina and Nick Welsh both have reported, the debate has been put on hold pending a ....wait for consultant's report about options for where and how to build apartments and condos that the middle class - think teachers, cops and firefighters - actually can afford.

Sheila, wielding Actual Facts, figures and the fundamentals of supply and demand, not to mention the laws of arithmetic, makes a persuasive case that substituting such a system -- in which building size replaces the number of units as the key criteria in approval of multi-unit developments - not only would fail to meet the goals of churning out "affordable" housing but also pave the way for 60-foot buildings that might signal the end of Santa Barbara's unique and carefully curated small town charm, design and aesthetic.

In our conversation, Lodge points to Santa Barbara's high construction costs -- three times the statewide per square foot average -- provides a precise and favorable accounting of the current pro-rental development policy -- that's the AUD, not the ADU, for those trying to keep their acronyms straight -- and offers historical perspective of how the city's housing debate has been underway for over a century -- her slim but indispensable volume "Santa Barbara: An Uncommonplace American Town/How Thoughtful Planning Shaped a City" should be required reading for anyone feeling the need to opine publicly on the issue.

Along the way, she also offers some intriguing political observations -- including her endorsements for Mayor and Council (spoiler alert: it's Randy and Kristen).

Watch our conversation with Sheila Lodge via YouTube below or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here.

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