Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Council tweaks Plan Santa Barbara


With a third of the Plan Santa Barbara process to update the General Plan complete, the Santa Barbara City Council received a status report and made several changes to the path forward during a lengthy discussion yesterday evening.
Ultimately, two major points came up as key in the next phase of the process of revamping the city’s guiding principles: a professional, communitywide poll, and more involvement and input from the community.

With a wealth of general information gathered through the initial phase, which included community workshops and grassroots meetings, the next step is to filter that information down into concrete policy options, city planner Bettie Weiss said.
While she acknowledged the importance of gathering a wide range of opinion and continuing to keep the community involved, Weiss emphasized the need to stay on track with plans to focus the process.
“I think we very much need to take these next few steps,” she said, warning against getting sidetracked and losing momentum.
Those next few steps she referred to include a work session to review and discuss current policies, development trends since 1990, and implications for the future. Two subsequent public workshops in April will address those issues and assist staff in formulating a draft policy options report.
That report will return for further community input at public workshops in June before staff form a policy preferences report identifying development and growth polices that have the most support.
City leaders expressed the need to get concrete issues out on the table as soon as possible.
“I want to find out where we can get to the roll-up-our sleeves part and really wrestle some of these issues to the ground,” Councilmember Grant House said.
John Jostes, a member of the Planning Commission, said although the commission is frustrated by how long the process has taken, he is encouraged by a revised and shortened schedule.
“I think we’re really getting into some substance here,” he said, stressing the need to continue to engage the community through informal, strategic neighborhood meetings.
“They know it better than we do,” he said. “They live there every day.”
A professional poll received widespread support from the council as well as members of the public who offered their own suggestions to amend the Plan Santa Barbara process during public comment.
“I’m really glad we’re doing that,” Mayor Marty Blum said of the communitywide survey. “It seems like a great idea.”
Councilmember Das Williams said the poll would catch those who didn’t take part in the community workshops and suggested conducting it after putting together the draft policy options report in order to garner meaningful feedback on focused questions.
He also approved of involving neighborhood groups through targeted discussions, even if it lengthens the process slightly.
“I think it’s a small price to pay to increase the public trust,” he said.
However, the community members who spoke yesterday evening were not without criticism of the initial phase of the process or the envisioned timeline.
Jim Westby, a community member involved with several neighborhood groups, urged the council to leverage the business community.
“I’m not sure we’ve done a good job of getting their input,” he said.
Cathy McCammon, representing the League of Women Voters, criticized efforts to shorten the process, arguing that the public needs time to discuss issues, sort out divergent views and find common ground.
“We believe the public is going to be shortchanged by the new rush to get everything done,” she said.
Naomi Kovas, executive director of the Citizens Planning Association, added that members of the community have expressed discontent that they are not being involved or that their comments are being ignored by city staff. Stop filtering community input through consultant summaries, she suggested, and keep new information and input constantly flowing on the city’s website.
To that end, city leaders encouraged the public to continue to be involved with the process through future workshops and polls and by visiting

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