Thursday, July 26, 2007

COLUMN: The plan for "The Plan"

Blame it on my Baby Boomer mantra, “Question Authority,” or even my Sicilian heritage that tends toward extreme skepticism, especially when city officials start making nice and promising to listen—particularly when they haven’t in the past.
“Plan Santa Barbara” is a two-year process designed to culminate in the passage, in 2009, of the city’s next 30-year plan, a document intended to guide Santa Barbara’s growth and development. The planning process itself is planned by the City of Santa Barbara Planning Division, which has recently begun its “public involvement timeline.”

As part of that effort last week, City Planner Jaime Limon, accompanied by Council Member Das Williams, attended one of my neighborhood’s monthly meetings to discuss Plan and the process.
Bearing a beautiful, full-color brochure, complete with lots of exclamation points (Plan Santa Barbara! You have the power to shape Santa Barbara’s future!), they initiated a discussion with skeptical neighbors who had much to say. Too many of us have been deeply disappointed with the actions of the same folks pushing the plan who have allowed the unprecedented intrusion of overdevelopment into a fine neighborhood. Many believe their years of citizen involvement—stealing time from families, work and leisure activities—has resulted in nothing but frustration, anger and a declining quality of life in a place we call home—some of us for more than 50 years.
Now I have no quibble with Williams; he has consistently represented neighborhood interests admirably. In my experience, he has regularly shown more willingness to listen to a differing viewpoint than any other city official, and works to find workable solutions. But I can’t say the same for the rest of the city administration, particularly the city’s planning staff, which seems determined to push an agenda that leaves citizens shut out, shut down and shut up.
Looking beyond the pretty pictures and fast talk, the application of a little critical thinking and historical context raises three major objections to the obvious plan for “Plan Santa Barbara.”

1) The Language: “Let Us Know What You Think!” reads the questionnaire handed out to residents. But the questions are designed only to elicit how the questioner feels:
• What do you love about Santa Barbara?
• What are your hopes for the city’s future?
• What are you most concerned about?
Look again at these questions. Love, hope and concern are words that elicit emotion, not rationality; generalities, not specifics. This touchy-feely approach is more appropriate to initiate discussion in an encounter group than to gather and tabulate specificity for a highly technical, state-mandated document.
If our city truly wants to know what we think, why didn’t they create a rational-based questionnaire that could be tabulated and quantified? Reliance on unprompted emotion could lead to way too many comments that are unusable in a document that requires specifics.

2) The Half-Truth: In the handout generously provided by our city, Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens is touted as an example in the section entitled “Community Driven Results.” But the rest of the story is about the legal battle against the city that broke Pearl Chase’s heart.
If the city had its way, there would be two nine-story condominium towers standing where Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens is now situated. The Planning Commission, ABR and City Council, as well as the entire business community, pushed to authorize the construction on the site, then touted as absolutely necessary development for Santa Barbara’s continued vitality.
When the grass-roots citizens’ lawsuit against the city was heard, Judge Underwood ruled against the city, stating the plan for the condos “…did complete violence to the comprehensive general plan.”
The park was created only after the citizens beat the city in court and wealthy philanthropist, Alice Keck Park, anonymously bought the land and established the gardens. This bit of history is especially ironic that the city currently faces at least three lawsuits filed by citizens’ groups to address similarly inappropriate development and process.

3) The Insulting Goal: On the page entitled “City Council’s Goals,” there are several admirable guidelines to shape the “Plan SB” process. But the one that simply jumps off the page reads, “Encourage public involvement and participation at all levels of city planning and other government activities.”
Participation without results leads only to increased frustration and greater alienation. Neighbors are right to be on high alert about this plan and any other pushed by the city’s go-go-development City Planning Department. All too often it has only been the lawsuit, not the listening session, that has compelled the city to change its plan.
Questions? Comments? E-mail


Anonymous said...

After living here for several decades, I can say that this group of council members, save one or two, and planners has given us too much development and very poor planning (mini-roundabouts, loss of parking lane on Anacapa Street), significantly diminishing the quality of life in this city. The school board even contributed. After voters approved a bond measure to provide for a new neighborhood school in Hidden Valley, as well as new permanent sites for Santa Barbara Charter and Open Alternative Schools, the money was instead used for other purposes. We are tired of being ignored.

David Pritchett said...

Maybe this version at the website should actually indicate who wrote this??

It is an opinion column by someone.

Santa Barbara Daily Sound said...

This column was written by Cheri Rae.