By Cheri Rae
The chickens have finally come home to roost—as some members of the city’s once-esteemed Architectural Board of Review have egg all over their faces for their cock-of-the-walk behavior.
Anyone who has been paying attention at all to the goings-on in the David Gebhard Community Meeting Room is well aware that some members of the ABR have long allowed their personal feelings and political beliefs to inform and influence their decisions on projects that come before them.
And City Staff has approved of their behavior.
Time and time again, I have witnessed unconscionable decision-making that has favored certain developers, architects and property managers who have brazenly marched into the room, certain of favorable findings—even when their proposals and behaviors brazenly flout established policies, procedures and city ordinances.
And City Staff has sat by and said nothing to back up the comments of citizens who have nowhere to turn unless they want to go through the expensive and arduous procedure of mounting an appeal to City Council. (Note: My neighbors and I were forced to do just that a couple years ago in an egregious case of unpermitted destruction of resources—where the ABR and City Staff were unresponsive to citizen concerns. We ended up winning 7-0 after pointing out numerous, er, let’s be nice and call them “irregularities” and “misrepresentations.” It was so bad that City Administrator Jim Armstrong ordered our appeal fee refunded.)
On September 11 the City Council will have the opportunity to hear another citizen appeal of an ABR-approved project for 901 Olive Street. It’s another outsized, metal-sheathed design too incompatible with the neighborhood and too close to El Pueblo Viejo to be allowed. But the ABR—behaving as though they’re at the top of the local pecking order—couldn’t have cared less.
As one esteemed local historian termed the ruling on the project, “The ABR’s attitude toward their responsibilities, guidelines and policies was appalling. Some of us pointed this out, and members ignored us or sneered. The architectural “style” in no way fits in with Santa Barbara or the neighborhood, which is mostly attractive residential.”
Another quipped that ABR now stands for “Already Been Ruined.”
Cluck all you want about this Chick-fil-A kerfuffle, but it’s only the latest dust-up of bad behavior in the ABR that far too many citizens have witnessed for far too long. Now that these members have ruffled feathers all the way to the Mayor’s office—and even forced the hand of their City Staff handlers—it’s finally time to cut the cocksure attitude of these members down to size, and stop playing chicken with what makes our city special.
But please, don’t think this is the first—or even the worst—example of ABR members acting like dumb clucks.