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Development during the drought

Construction sites across the city of Santa Barbara are raising eyebrows and the ire of local residents. Particularly, what appears to be a construction corridor, of sorts, along Upper State Street.

“It hits you like how are these people going to have water?” asked Robin Young. “I mean doing their dishes, laundry, landscaping … where’s it going to come from?”

A developer out of San Francisco is behind an upscale, 88 room hotel going in at the site of the former Hope Ranch Inn on the 4000 block of State Street.

Green fencing surrounds the parcel along the 3800 block of State Street that once housed the Sandman Inn, as work crews grade the land to make room for more than 70 condos and a number of business and retail buildings.

Across the way, The Marc, a high-end apartment complex will house 89 units near La Cumbre Plaza.

Blocks away, four Spanish colonial-style homes sit newly framed on San Remo.

Local residents are taking notice.

“I think there should be a limit on what goes in until we get this under control and figure out where we’re going to get our water,” said longtime resident Pat Dalmark.

“New development in Santa Barbara is very small, in the big picture,” said Josh Haggmark, Water Resources Manager for the City of Santa Barbara.

So is the amount of water, according to city officials.

“For example, last year new development brought on 6 acre feet of new demand,” Haggmark said. “We used about 10,000 acre feet of water last year. It’s (new development) very insignificant in the big picture.”

City officials are painfully aware of the delicate balance between growing the economy and conserving water as California heads into a sixth year of an historic drought.

Haggmark said over the past 10 years, on average, new demand represented 27 acre feet of water, a year. He explained that number reflects new development that is “fully occupied.”

To give context, Haggmark said a typical family uses roughly a third of an acre foot of water a year; a football field covered in one foot of water is roughly the equivalent to an acre foot.

“To put it in perspective we lose, on average, a couple hundred acre feet to evaporation in Cachuma,” Haggmark said.

He said anything going up now has been in the pipeline for years and stopping development altogether would have a damaging ripple effect on our economy and various industries, similar to what many people experienced during the recession.

“We’re talking your framers, your roofers, your plumbers, a lot of these folks that are involved in the construction industry,” Haggmark said. “Most people don’t realize, people eating at their restaurant or using their facility .. these are people that come to town to work. I think that’s some of the challenges the council’s been struggling with.”

Santa Barbara city officials revisit the new development issue each year and assess the city’s water supply each month. Reviewing future development not already in the pipeline is expected to happen in the spring.

In the meantime, all new development must meet the latest water conservation measures and codes.

NewsChannel 3 asked Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider for her input.

“I think we need a bigger conversation about how does all this fit in the big picture, because once this drought is over, we have to think about the next one moving forward,” Schneider said.

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