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  • Writer's pictureNewsmakers with JR

Oscar: Demand for Housing in City Means the Transformation of SB Skyline is "Inevitable"

Six-story buildings inevitably will come to dominate Santa Barbara's iconic skyline, City Council member Oscar Gutierrez said Wednesday, because "stylistic choices" must give way to the "need of the people" for more housing.

The combination of homelessness, a shortage of "affordable housing" and political pressure from state government will require more density and construction of taller buildings that are all but certain to change "the feel and the atmosphere" of the city, Gutierrez said in an interview with Newsmakers.

The comments come as City Hall is studying a controversial new design scheme, known as "Floor Area Ratio" (FAR), to spur production of rental housing, in which building size would replace the number of units as the key criteria in approval of multi-unit developments. Among other changes, critics say, such a change could open the door for a spate of higher buildings that conflict with Santa Barbara's painstakingly curated architectural aesthetic.

"Unfortunately, I feel like that’s going to be inevitable, I think it’s just going to happen over the years," Gutierrez said. "I think that the need of the people (is) going to outweigh, you know, stylistic choices.

"Obviously, we have a homeless crisis, we have a housing crisis and we’re going to have to build homes for these people and I’ve been pro-housing since the start," he added.

Gutierrez cited the growing push from Sacramento to quash local control over zoning, density and design issues in communities around the state, which housing advocates argue have been crucial in creating a shortage of units, as a critical factor.

Several weeks ago, the council agreed to hire a consultant to study options for affordable housing locations before reaching a decision on the FAR proposal, a move in which Gutierrez played a key role.

"We can only slow it down, but we can’t stop it, so people need to kind of realize that," he said. "I grew up here, and the one thing I appreciate whenever I come home is the skyline, you know, is how I can see the mountains, I can see the hills.

"It will change the feel and the atmosphere having taller buildings, but again, I understand the purpose and the need for it," he added. "And know that eventually it’s just going to happen...I just know the legislation from the state and the federal government is going to come down on us even more as time passes, and we’re going to have to give up more and more to be able to abide by it."

In the interview, the last of our series of conversations with all seven members of council, Gutierrez also discussed his:

  • support for new traffic initiatives encouraging more bicycle ridership;

  • view that the State Street closure to traffic should be expanded by at least one block;

  • advocacy of Mayor Cathy Murillo's re-election;

  • sponsorship of a proposal to require grocery store owners to pay their employees more for working during the pandemic;

  • recovery from Covid and his take on the debate over equity of the vaccine roll-out;

Plus: the latest NFL good fortune of his former San Marcos High School football teammate Alex Mack, among other issues.

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


You can find our previous recent interviews with SB City Council members here:

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