Santa Barbara Politics, Media & Culture

Thursday, March 15, 2007

PR: Group Sues Over St. Francis



(Santa Barbara, CA) – A grassroots citizens group filed suit today in Santa Barbara Superior Court to force the City of Santa Barbara to uphold and enforce the City’s Zoning Laws and General Plan. The suit seeks to protect citizens, neighborhoods and the community as a whole from excessive development.

St. Francis Friends and Neighbors contends that the City violated Zoning Laws and its General Plan when it approved Cottage Hospital’s controversial plan to demolish St. Francis Hospital and build 115 condos. The City’s Zoning Laws allow no more than 73 units on the property. The vast majority of the 115 condos are intended for market-rate and upper middle-income buyers.

“This is an out-sized, out-of-scale housing project. It harms the community as a whole to have the City do zoning by decree and not by law,” states James Westby, President of St. Francis Friends and Neighbors. “When the City makes zoning decisions on a project by project basis, making up policy as they go along, nobody can depend on the law to protect our neighborhoods. This creative zoning results in multiple negative impacts on our environment.”

The contested approval violates the limits set by the Zoning Ordinance and exceeds the density allowed by the General Plan. According to the lawsuit, the City’s approval of the subdivisions, the density, and modifications are all actions that exceed the authority granted to the City Council. Therefore, it is contrary to the law.

“Neighborhood groups across the City view the St. Francis project as precedent-setting, and as the kind of mega-development that could affect them, too,” adds Westby. “We have widespread support from the adjacent neighborhoods, as well as citizens from all over town. The essence of Santa Barbara is at stake.”

The citizens group, after exhausting all avenues through the City’s approval process, has turned to the Courts for help. “We love our City and our neighborhoods,” Westby says, “All we are asking is that this project -- and all others -- be done in accordance with Zoning Laws and the General Plan. The laws were established to protect us all, and they must be followed.”



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why don't these people do us all a favor and leave?

3/15/2007 7:27 PM  
Anonymous Lucas Els said...

What an unbelievable waste of time and community resources. Hopefully there's a way for Cottage to recoup its legal fees once this is tossed out of court. Otherwise the money comes out of the pocket of the community, and can't go toward improving health care. The degree of selfishness is shameful. Please know that those who filed this lawsuit do not speak for our neighborhood - they only represent themselves.

3/15/2007 8:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"These people" expect the City to obey the law. Funny, that's a serious demand in every other part of this blog, why not here?

3/15/2007 8:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Sara for bring this up. It is important to keep the public informed.

3/15/2007 11:01 PM  
Blogger Voice of Rezon(e) said...

The press release starts by saying this suit was filed by "a grassroots citizens group".

What a crock! This suit was filed by a few "haves" with $1.5 million "bungalows". Yes, very grassroots indeed.

Even though I don't work in health care, on behalf of all the Cottage workers I'd like to extend my "grassroot" middle finger to these folks!

3/15/2007 11:03 PM  
Anonymous Valerio said...

The City can change zoning at will as individual projects are approved. The Council just cannot hide what they are doing. Usually, the legal challenge is based on something incorrect under CEQA for the environmental review documents and procedures.

Thus, I do not understand what the legal basis really is here.

If someone can explain it and cite the legal theory, please do.

3/15/2007 11:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the city was wrong, then the number of units should be changed to reflect what's on the books.

However, I am also very weary of the NIMBYS in the St. Francis neighborhood. I know they wanted this property turned in to a community park but that's not realistic. Sheesh, I hope none of them ever need medical attention from the staff at Cottage Hospital!

3/16/2007 6:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The city should use eminent domain and level the whole neighborhood and put in some afforadble housing.

3/16/2007 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Prospector said...

Incredible hostility here for fellow Santa Barbarans who simply would like to see their city government and the city's most powerful and well-endowed institution (Cottage Hospital, Inc.) held to the same zoning ordinances and density regulations that all the rest of us live with and benefit from.

If the St. Francis area is correctly zoned at R2, and the hospital is to be replaced with housing, then why are we expected to believe that 115 units (perhaps 300 or more residents) on 6.5 acres will suddenly be appropriate density? If individual property owners in such an area were hoping to remake their neighborhood this way, they would be stopped as they walked up the steps of the Planning Dept. with their blueprints still under their arms.

But the same sort of overcrowding and over-taxing of residential space is suddenly acceptable in the name of "work force housing." If I live in the neighborhood, will it make any difference to me that I am now packed cheek-by-jowl with Cottage healthcare workers rather than employees of restaurants, banks, and construction contractors? Will the narrow streets feel any less overwhelmed by nurses and radiology technicians than by secretaries and real estate brokers?

Zoning laws are in place to protect neighborhood character from exploitation. If it's just a matter of tying the hands of individuals until a grand, perhaps meritorious, project comes along, then we had all better get nervous because this one will only scratch the surface of the problem. Cottage Hospital doesn't employ all the important folks. Don't teachers, police officers, fire fighters, letter carriers, TSA inspectors, marriage and family counselors, and many more deserve special zoning exceptions to keep them within the bosom of our community?

3/16/2007 3:09 PM  
Anonymous harping said...

Thanks to Prospector for providing a refreshing voice of reason here.

3/16/2007 4:21 PM  
Anonymous allegro805 said...

I resent exaggerated dramatic rhetoric used to whip up quasi-populist frenzy: "...we had all better get nervous..."

I am merely a lowly renter in your neighborhood; I am also very tired of the NIMBYism that other commenters have referred to. Please stop wasting time and legal costs that result from pursuing this. This project has been through multiple rounds of review and objections. Continued action feels mean-spirited. (And, yes, I know you are the victims fighting for "justice" and I should be applauding you because that's What America Is About!... but no, I'm not; and no, that's not me being envious of property owners.)

As someone else stated, if the code states that there is a process and policy for exceptions to be made, what is the basis for the legal argument? I'd be curious to see excerpts from the actual court filing. I find this saga to rival that of the News-Press in terms of employment of "stalling tactics."

I feel bad that you feel bad. And I really do support your right to the attempts you've made against the project so far. However, this final round in the ring seems ill-advised, and I just can't muster sympathy.

I hope you will attempt to meet and get to know your nice new neighbors when the project is complete, and that you will eventually feel happy about the beautiful and extraordinary neighborhood that we are already able to call home.

3/16/2007 4:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In our culture, the end is not supposed to justify the means. But that's just what's happened throughout this lengthy process. Posing anyone who raises questions about this slickly marketed project as an enemy of the people contributes to an angry, toxic environment that does no good whatsoever. If such a massive demolition of a perfectly good building and ultra-impactful construction project was planned for any other neighborhood anywhere in this city or any other, the affected citizenry would be up in arms, too. Good for the people who filed the suit and for standing up to the city who ignored all of their legitimate, well-documented, and quite reasonable objections throughout the process. If the city had done what it was supposed to, fitting the project into the neighborhood, rather than forcing it on the neighborhood, it never would have come to this.

3/16/2007 5:28 PM  
Anonymous Lucas Els said...

Prospector, much of the area is R-3, and many of the properties around St. Francis (particularly along Arellaga) are much more dense than Cottage's proposal. The city's zoning laws allow up to 180 units on the property.

3/16/2007 8:28 PM  
Blogger Voice of Rezon(e) said...

"massive demolition of a perfectly good building"

That's part of the attitude that is getting our community in so much trouble.

We need to realize that buildings, like any other things, have life spans, and need to be replaced from time to time. That's all part of the natural cycle. Old buildings need to be torn down to build ones that are more suited to the needs of the community today as opposed to 50 years ago. Obviously this doesn't apply to all buildings and those with particular significance (i.e., the Mission) should be preserved.

But let's look at Jimmy's for an example. Sure, it was a great place to go and have a drink or two on occasion , or have some not-so-great Chinese food, but now there are people campaigning to save the building and turn it into some sort or museum?

This St. Francis/Cottage Workforce Housing project has clearly illustrated to me, and should to the rest of the community, that the so-called "neighborhood preservation" NIMBYs are NOT ENVIRONMENTALISTS! They don't care about sensible planning, reducing commuting, building "GREEN " buildings to replace old, inefficient ones, or anyone but themselves frankly.

I hope the great Santa Barbara enviro community wakes up to see the lie that's been perpetuated upon them - that stopping growth and/or density is environmentally sound logic. It's not, just an excuse by the NIMBY "haves" to try and draw people to their side.

3/17/2007 10:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This grassrots group will waste city money that could be spent to improve traffic and will spend Cottage money that could be spent to improve healthcare.

I live in the neighborhood and joined with some of these same people to fight the medical office building years ago - we all said the property should be homes.

While I do not look forward to consturction noise and dust for a few years I do think the homes are better than a big ugly hospital.

And I do understand the cost of housing will make it impossible for young nurses to live and work here.

So I am embrassed by my neighbors - they are wealthy NIMBY's with nothing better to do with their time or money.

I say the city charges them for all the time and money they waste.

3/17/2007 12:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So we should undertake, for environmental reasons, the demolition of City Hall, the County Courthouse, the Lobero, and all of the famed El Pueblo Viejo district because those buildings are more than 50 years old--while we're at it, let's level every single neighborhood, too. Yeah, right that's the environmental thing. Turn the whole city into mostrosities like what's going up on Chapala Street; that will really improve this place. C'mon!

3/17/2007 2:24 PM  
Blogger passing-by said...

Rezon(e) has convinced me that we Santa Barbarans need to get past these silly ideas about saving old things and embrace the Orange County attitude that buildings more than a year and a half old need to be torn down and replaced by larger ones. I was just down there last week and I can't tell you how much fun it is to make new friends of people who get involved with you by way of multi-car rear end collisions on freeways 16 lanes wide. I have noticed that there sure is a lot of wasted space up there by that old Mission... a lot of really nice Spanish style condos could be jammed in behind the facade of that musty, out-dated chapel, and across the street, too, where all those old people always putz around with those old roses. Progress and change are always good!!! And we know that if you are against progress it means that you hate hospital employees and want inferior health care. After all, Cottage Hospital knows what is best for all of us.

3/17/2007 6:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cottage does what's best for Cottage. Spending untold amounts to keep the nurses from unionizing. Killing off the competition and bcoming a monopoly. Packing their board with developers. On the basis of a slick pr campaign of misinformation, trying to build a company town, that allows them to kickout the condo "owners" (even retirees)as soon as they don't work there anymore. Silencing the UCLA doctor who warned about the project's health risks. Get past the hype and get informed, and stop blaming people who are smart enough to look a little deeper to find out the truth about this boondoggle.

3/18/2007 10:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please. This isn't Area 51. The neighbors lost, but just can't seem to stop acting like spoiled brats!

3/18/2007 4:22 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Turn St Francis into a homeless camp.

It is a perfect "re-use" of this standing functional building. In fact, put the welcome sign out right now for all the RVs and mobile homeless to come on in.

What a waste of a city treasure if it does not get used right now for affordable housing for this mobile homeless community Santa Barbara is so proud of helping.

And it will satisfy the neighbors too because there would not need to be any construction noise. An RV camp has no impact at all whatsoever on the surrounding neigbhorhood. All they have to do is drive in there and park.

No problem, eh neigbhors? What do you say since you are dead set against anything else going in there.

Think I'll go down to Yanonali and put some signs on their windows giving them directions to St Francis. Saint Frank himself would have been proud.

3/18/2007 9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real irony here is there is absolutely no threat to these $1.5 million dollar bungalow flipper NIMBY's property values when the St Francis Housing goes in.

They don't know this yet but they should. They need to drive around and see what a superb addition even public housing is in this town. What really detracts from their present property values is that hulk of an old ugly abandoned building that is already getting used as an itinerant car park.

You would think the Million Dollar Flippers would be the first ones to cheer the demolition crew, not oppose them. The current Cottage project is superb design and will soften the entire city lanscape in this part of town and take away this industrial anachronism that is the real drag in this area.

You demanded and got required worker shuttles to Cottage for all the workers, so shut up already about increased traffic.

Plus you are so close to town that few will even need their cars. What is your problem!!?!!

You are embarassing.

3/18/2007 10:36 PM  
Blogger Voice of Rezon(e) said...

"Rezon(e) has convinced me that we Santa Barbarans need to get past these silly ideas about saving old things and embrace the Orange County attitude that buildings more than a year and a half old need to be torn down and replaced by larger ones."

Thanks for the nod PB, but Orange Co is exactly what we should be trying to prevent. It typifies urban sprawl that is championed by the NIMBY community. In fact, just a week or two ago David Prichett wrote a long post on how Bishop Ranch should be turned into a mini Hope Ranch with huge houses on huge lots for the "horsey" community.

My point is that in our urban areas we should be building up rather than out. We need to preserve the open space that makes sense (outside the city/urban limits) at the cost of redevelopment and infill within our urban areas, where they can be served by public transportation or where people can walk or bike between their residence, jobs and services.

Those "monstrosity" mixed-use developments some of you have referred to are exactly what we should be doing in our downtown urban areas.

3/19/2007 10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Concentrating an economic base in the down town area, by going up rather than out, is exactly what we should be doing to support our downtown businesses.

Handing over more of this high value downtown property to the homeless and the low-income subsidized is sheer and total folly. You have given them enough and much more and you will scare away any further economic balancing of this strategic core of your economic base.

What on earth ever made you think this high value real estate should be given away basically for free to the poor? This is stupid.

Let's hope the city stops doing more of that and encourages more of the affluent to come, live and spend in downtown Santa Barbara.

That way, we all win. And darn sure have adequate public safety presence to make it a good investment.

And then turn the old drive-in movie theater outside of the downtown core but on a good transportation corridor over to low-end housing. That makes sense.

3/19/2007 5:20 PM  
Blogger Voice of Rezon(e) said...

Anon 5:20 PM --

I'm not sure if your post was directed at mine or a general comment but I am definitely not advocating "handing over downtown property" to homeless, et al.

But I am saying that downtown/urban mixed-use developments are the way to go to house a considerable amount of our local workforce.

Providing housing opportunities and choices at all levels of income is part of a healthy community. More affluent folks are fine, but they typically don't want to live downtown, nor ride the bus around.

Plus, someone has to babysit their kids, put out their fires, cook their meals and nurse them when they're ill, and those folks are more likely to live downtown and ride the bus or bike to work.

3/20/2007 10:59 AM  
Anonymous allegro805 said...

voice of rezon(e): You're trying to engage "anonymous" in a logical argument. However, he basically considers selling a few condos in the Chapala mixed-use development at prices around $250K to people who make up to $60K or so to be the SAME thing as "handing over high value downtown property to the homeless." He beats the same "homeless" drum over and over again, and we're never going to get anywhere with it with rezon(e). There: I've fed the monster again.

3/20/2007 2:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No one has to "babysit their kids".

Please come up with better reasons to give some people housing and make others pay full price for it.

Please show evidence artificially creating a stratified society with free housing for some and expensive housing for others works?

Do you realize the absurdity of what you are suggesting trotting out a laundry list of who should be subsidized and who should not (except demanding that we pay for someone else's subsidy whether we need our kids babysat or not.)

Please think this through. Otherwise your argument is just parroting nonsense the developers want you to swallow.

I repeat - I have no duty to provide subsidized housing so someone else can underpay a babysitter, a gardener, a maid or a cook. Got that?

3/20/2007 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We already built housing for police and firefighters on Las Positas Road, across from the tennis courts.

What happened to that? How many times do we have to keep building more housing for them.

If it did not work the first time, why will it work the second time.

3/20/2007 2:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Allegro - if someone can't buy a house unless they are handed a subsidy, they are therefore "homeless" without that subsidy. Only you think "homeless" refers solely to derilicts and winos on the streets. Nope.

So please expand your definition of subsidized housing - by whom, for whom and why.

ALL housing in Santa Barbara is affordable, because someone buys it. No one who lives here in a bona fide house/apartment is homeless.

Those living on the streets demanding handouts are homeless, even if they make $60,00 a year.

You in fact are supporting giving homes to the homeless. Broaden your own definition of "homeless".

Because it is in fact anyone who comes here expecting a handout and a free ride whether they make $6 a year or $60,000 a year.

Your short-sighted image of Utopia needs a lot more substance to make me a believer. But I am open to listening.

Why should we buy into your (developer inspired) image of Utopian Santa Barbara - a perfect stratification of a perfect society for perfect people?

Says who?

Wrap your brain around the fact Santa Barbara is no longer a middle class city. Nor will it suffer not being so.

Next argument.....

3/20/2007 3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One hears these arguments with such regularity, one forgets they all came from the developers who want to build out and up on every square inch of this town.

When you hear any of the following, demand substantiating facts.


1. We need to save the middle class in Santa Barbara

2. We need to have places where our children and grandchildren can live

3. What happens in an emergency if public safety people have to drive in from out of town

4. What happens if there is another landslide at La Conchita and no one can come in for days

5. Where will Cottage Hospital get its nurses

6. Where will we get police, firemen, babysitters, gardeners, maids, (substitute any low wage exploited service worker title)

3/20/2007 3:58 PM  
Anonymous Lucas Els said...

More of the same disinformation from my rabid neighbors.

Care to enlighten us as to the identity of the developers who will benefit from Cottage's plans for St. Francis?

You people are full of it. Cottage is a local non-profit with a volunteer board of directors. There's no developer scam/conspiracy. You're just trying to drum up sympathy for your selfish (and lost) cause.

3/20/2007 6:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The city council benefits from patting themselves on the back about how many "affordable" units they created when no one is asking them for "affordable" units who actually live and vote here.

The only people whining to the city council for "affordable" units are those who don't even live here, the commuters who refuse to take a bus, and the developers.

So who benefits from the St Francis over-development? The city council who can put notches on their belts thinking they did something good, and suck in more developer donation dollars. That's who.

3/20/2007 9:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And the developers don't really care about "affordable" units. They just tack them on to get their bloated projects past the grateful noses of the city council and planning agencies.

Indeed, who exactly IS asking for more "affordable" housing - what is their current zip code and do they vote here? I just do not hear this cry coming out from the neighborhoods impacted by this odd housing scheme.

Most condo associations are dysfunctional under the best of circumstances. I can't imagine how much more they will dysfunction when they also have to accomodate "affordable" owners who most likely will want to say No to every single condo improvement necessity.

Who is even looking at the history of these "affordable" condo association dysfunction and whether these units soon become the new urban slums?

Someone mentioned the old Las Positas police and firemen's project which sure borders on slum property now, many years later - cheap construction badly managed.

That sure makes it now affordable -- in perpetuity. Great policy.

3/20/2007 9:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Huh? The press release says "The vast majority of the 115 condos are intended for market-rate and upper middle-income buyers." And there's no city subsidy. So I don't understand the last two anonymous comments at all. Is the problem that the homes are affordable, or that they are not affordable? I think the true problem these people have with Cottage's plan is that they no longer get to live next to a closed hospital. So they are grasping for ways to link their NIMBY opposition to some larger philosophical stance. Clearly they need to try a bit harder because they are not making any sense.

3/21/2007 9:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A city subsidy is the requirement or the density-bonus granted that demands the inclusion of artificially constructed affordable housing. The city and not the market controls the type of housing built - that is a subsidy.

Affordable housing, even if gratuitously included by developers to gain easier passage through city planning agencies is also a de facto city subsidy.

Any city regulation that encourages or requires affordable housing versus the rule of the market place is a city subsidy.

3/22/2007 8:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Goleta can require a minimum of 55% affordable/homeless housing per development, why can't Santa Barbara?

We really need this sort of development.

3/22/2007 3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Goleta did not get away with their 55% affordable requirement. In fact it led to the dismissal of the incumbents who fostered this in the last election. Plus as the great irony, it virtually guaranteed NO development due to this onerous demand.

55% affordable units by mandate is just plain stupid. America has not fallen that far off its wheels. Get over the idea you can afford to live here,.... if you cannot.

3/23/2007 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"You people are full of it. Cottage is a local non-profit with a volunteer board of directors. There's no developer scam/conspiracy. You're just trying to drum up sympathy for your selfish (and lost) cause."

You are sadly delusional. Familiarize yourself with just who this "volunteer" board at Cottage is, and what stake many of these individuals have in development here in SB. "Philanthropy 101" says invest a little (say spreading around a million dollars to deserving agencies) and make a lot more from the well-greased connections derived from these "goodwill" gestures.
Wake up and smell the coffee friend.

3/29/2007 5:48 PM  
Anonymous gator said...

So let's see, one of SB's largest employers chooses to use their own money to purchase a property from a revered owner whose business was no longer able to sustain a profit in the very difficult world of healthcare.
With the blessings of the revered owner the major employer announces plans to build, again with their own money, 115 townhouse units to be sold to their employees at below market rates in the hopes of preventing these employees, who provide a valuable and much needed service to the
community as healthcare workers, from having to leave our town because they otherwise would never have a chance of owning a home here.
Now somehow the mere idea that this employer would have the audacity to try and provide homes for those less able to attain them than others and do it without asking anyone for donations or financial subsidies and at great fiscal expense to themselves & do it the middle of town in an established neighborhood is absolutely unthinkable! Still don't see the real problem here, do you?
Look, if I had been living for the past 5+ years next to a shuttered hospital where the quiet hasn't been disturbed by a constant flow of cars, trucks, ambulances & people and I was now facing around 3 years of demolition & new construction, I'd have some reservations too. But friends, please, look beyond your own needs and your own self and instead try to begin welcoming your new neighbors into your area. Heck,
you'll probably discover that they're folks just like you, hardworking, goodhearted Santa Barabarians happy to finally have a home of their own in a nice neighborhood.

3/29/2007 8:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I know they wanted this property turned in to a community park but that's not realistic."

1st let’s get our history right: the reason we have alice keck park and alameda park is b/c people decided community parks were important. these parks are IN the bungalow district.

personally i support the project. the plans have much more community open space than the current building.

economically integrated neighborhoods are a good idea. but that means san rouque too!

7/29/2007 11:55 PM  

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