CPA Calls for Story Poles and Transparency for City Projects

June 21, 2021

RE: 825 de la Vina Street appeal: need for transparency

Dear Mayor Murillo and Councilmembers:

Citizens Planning Association is in its 6th decade of participating in Santa Barbara city and county governmental planning processes. CPA is particularly concerned about public awareness and participation. This letter is a forward-looking call-out for story poles and improvements in the minutes.

We have studied the Council Report and watched sections of the videos of the ABR meetings concerning 825 de la Vina Street. We did not “attend” the initial review on April 20, 2020; it was the early days of intense concern about the pandemic and its effects, and we were unaware of what was intended for that important block of downtown, notable for its historic ambiance.

Had we known of the meeting, CPA would have urged there be story poles so what was intended could be known by residents and passersby, just as has been done for other visually and historically important areas. Two speakers did urge this at that first meeting: Fred Sweeney and Steve Hausz who emphasized, “story poles are very important for the neighborhood to understand (what is planned.)” Critical not only for the neighborhood but the city: this section of de la Vina is an important thoroughfare for city residents, valued for its pines and historic 1800’s houses.

The single placard photo at the site gives no sense of the scale of the proposed development, that it will be four stories and take up the entire parking lot with 21 housing units with limited parking in an already congested area. Neighborhood parking, including businesses and the popular restaurant on the corner, will be affected.

Had there been public awareness there would have been a chance for more of the public to participate, perhaps more of a chance to make changes in what is a dominating design.

This was early in the pandemic when government meetings vanished into cyberspace. Residents, concerned citizens and policy wonks watching at home often on phones or tablets, if they knew of the meeting at all, could see only the little heads at the top of their screens. 3D computer simulations are inadequate for home viewers. Story poles do work and they should be required wherever there is a sizeable proposal that will have an impact beyond the property boundaries.