Santa Barbara suspends contentious Zoning Information Reports

Real estate industry celebrates end to ZIRs

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – In a big win for the real estate community, Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday night to immediately suspend Zoning Information Reports, also known as ZIRs.

Meagan Harmon and fellow council member Randy Rowse worked behind the scenes with the real estate industry to find a compromise on the issue.

“I’m proud of us,” Harmon said Wednesday. “It was a good night.”

Local realtors have been fighting ZIRs for more than a decade. They had even proposed a measure that gained more than seven thousand signatures to repeal ZIRs, which was to go on the ballot this November. The measure would lead to an off-year election costing thousands of dollars.

Now, that measure can be withdrawn as any outstanding ZIRs are suspended.

“We talked to them and found out what they needed and we saw what we needed and thought, ‘let’s present this to council,'” Rowse said Wednesday.

ZIRs began in the city in the 1970s. They require property owners to fix any unapproved work or dwellings found on a property.

But city council members say there are already enough protections for local homebuyers, and that ZIRs are costing taxpayers too much money.

“It served a purpose [when it began],” Harmon said of the program. “But under modern disclosure law in the state of California, it was really duplicative bureaucracy. And it wasn’t serving the purpose that it was intended.”

Realtors go a step further, saying ZIRs are not reliable, costing sellers thousands they shouldn’t have to pay and discouraging buyers from buying.

“They’re grossly inconsistent, they’re grossly inaccurate,” real estate agent Steve Epstein said. “And they’ve morphed into something they were never designed to be. The idea was [fixing] illegally-converted garages, second kitchens, additional units. Now it’s turned into, ‘Hey, you can’t store your trash cans along the side of the garage because it’s in the setbacks.'”

Mayor Cathy Murillo voted against the measure. She sees the move as a setback for the city.

“I acknowledge that the ZIR program has not been perfect,” she said Wednesday. “But the benefits far outweigh the difficulties. We need to protect buyers so that they know exactly what’s going on with that property.”

Murillo says she will keep a close eye on the city’s new disclosure program.

The measure will now go to the planning commission, who will hear public comments as it makes a zoning text amendment. That amendment would then return to city council for a final vote, which could happen by this fall.

Source: Keyt News


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