Santa Barbara’s Future Design Linked to Past, Current Housing Needs

A panel of three architects, a commercial real estate broker and a city planner discussed the need for more housing on State Street and even in La Cumbre Plaza while expressing optimism for the future of the city’s urban design at a June 7 all-day symposium in Santa Barbara. 

While most of the day was spent with speakers talking about the city’s urban design over the past century, the final panel of the symposium discussed “Santa Barbara Today and Tomorrow.” 

One of the South Coast’s top architects, Michael Holliday, said the future holds “opportunity and the potential for success” that inspires him. He said artists’ renderings from the 1920s still convey how Santa Barbara should look today and into the future. 

Another architect, William LaVoie, asked, “Where’s the city?” To respond, Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon  raised her hand in the audience that reached up to 100 during the day. 

While chiding city officials for often slowing the permitting process, LaVoie told the crowd to “know what you have, know what you want and get involved.” 

While Holliday first suggested using a couple of blocks on State Street for mixed use, commercial on the bottom floor and residential on top, LaVoie went so far as to say some La Cumbre Plaza parking area could be converted into residential use. There has been talk of making the vacant Sears building there into residential. 

“We should treat La Cumbre like a mini-downtown,” he said. 

Radius commercial real estate broker Chris Parker said Amazon, which is converting the old Saks building on State Street into a technology center, has had a great effect on retail and the city must adapt to the changing market. He said dealing with State Street will be “interesting and fun.” 

Parker also said the city should do more to provide incentives to developers while Holliday suggested the development process should be sped up and be more time-efficient. 

Holliday talked about how technology is changing the urban design process by making it less necessary to use Santa Barbara’s sole freeway route. Some of the symposium’s speakers touted new computer software that supports planning and design. 

However, city planner Dan Gullet admitted the city is challenged by having to digitize its old analog system to meet modern design-process needs. 

Gullet was sort of hemmed in by the other panel members who said that the city should loosen up the development and permit process. LaVoie went so far as to say that the city has too many “conflicting ordinances.” 

Another panelist who spoke earlier in the day, Dennis Doordan from the University of Notre Dame, made a point earlier in the day when he said, “Planning is not socialism.”  He plans to retire in Santa Barbara.

Another speaker earlier in the day, former Mayor Sheila Lodge, who now serves on the planning commission, displayed images of what she considered bad buildings in the city and other proposed structures that were never built. 

Holliday thanked her for that. 

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