Since its earliest years, Santa Barbara's citizens railed against its isolation and sought growth. They lamented lagging behind other rapidly growing Southern California towns. Finally, by the late 1940's, many believed that Santa Barbara's isolation was finally over and growth and prosperity were on the horizon: new homes on the Mesa were sold immediately, UCSB was thriving, and businesses had begun selecting Santa Barbara as their home. Proposals to transform Santa Barbara into a large, thriving metropolis included:
- The Southern Pacific and the Hyatt Corporation proposal for a 1,000-room waterfront hotel and resort that would necessitate re-routing Cabrillo Boulevard.
- An eight-story, twin-tower high-rise where Alice Keck Memorial Gardens is today.
- The expansion of Stearns Wharf into a 90,000 square foot, 70-store shopping center.
- Plans for converting two blocks of downtown State Street into an enclosed shopping mall.
And the list went on.
Suddenly, opinion in Santa Barbara shifted. Some believe it was the terrible oil spill that illustrated the damage developers could do to Santa Barbara. Others believe that it was the dawning recognition by many that the character of the town would be lost if large commercial developments were approved. Throughout the city, a resolve to fight to retain Santa Barbara's small town charm germinated and grew.
For whatever combination of reasons, Santa Barbara citizens began to say, "No!" Wealthy citizens purchased land to protect it from developers; and voters elected candidates who would support their anti-development stance.
By the 1970's, developers' plans were routinely being denied. In Goleta, developments that had been approved by the County Board of Supervisors were denied water meters. In Santa Barbara, an important study, The Effects of Urban Growth, analyzed the amount of growth the town's air, land, traffic, housing, and tax base could sustain. Results indicated that, although zoning would allow population to increase to 170,000, Santa Barbara's resources could sustain only 85,000. This report recommended a limitation on new jobs in the city. Ignoring this report, in 1975, the City Council instead decided to limit the number of new houses permitted.
In the ensuing years, as the number of jobs in Santa Barbara grew and the number of homes remained stable, Santa Barbara experienced shocking inflation in the prices of homes. Although City Council passed an ordinance in 1988 that limited commercial growth, the search for affordable housing in Santa Barbara continues to plague the city. Until a solution is found, the highways out of Santa Barbara, both north to Lompoc and south to Ventura and Oxnard, continue to be clogged day and evening as Santa Barbara workers commute to affordable homes outside Santa Barbara.
reprinted with permission from the author