Santa Barbara County’s Housing Element Must Have Proper Balance

As the Santa Barbara County supervisor representing two-thirds of Goleta, I am writing to address concerns about possible rezones in the county’s Draft Housing Element.

As a resident, county planning commissioner and as the Third District supervisor, I have always been committed to preserving agriculture from inappropriate development.

I’m especially proud of having advised Goleta’s Goodland Coalition in its successful Measure G2012 initiative to save Goleta’s six largest agricultural parcels, including Bishop Ranch.

I am resolute that we must protect this special area and minimize negative impacts of development.

Most people agree that the shortage of affordable housing harms our community — the difficulty hiring people who can afford to live here, the threats to our community diversity, the inability of our children to remain here, as well as the consequences of long commutes.

While increasing housing that is more affordable, it is also critically important that this housing is built in a thoughtful manner that minimizes impacts and recognizes local constraints.

Unfortunately, the State of California has used a “cookie cutter, one-size fits all approach” to mandate that the county rezone for 5,664 units, with 4,142 units on the South Coast.

The mandates don’t consider our local challenges such as water supply, high cost of land or, in Santa Barbara County, areas bordered by ocean, mountains and national forest — resulting in very limited buildable land.

Furthermore, the state has created draconian sanctions for failing to meet its mandates: it can withhold significant funding for roads, homeless and community services, and deem the county ineligible for critical grant funds.

The state can also enact a “builder’s remedy” if a county or city is out of compliance with state housing mandates. The builder’s remedy removes local discretion about the size and location of projects, permitting developers to build projects that do not comply with county zoning or aesthetic requirements.

So now Santa Barbara County is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

Our county must plan and zone for very high numbers of housing units with little regard for local constraints.

Or, if we don’t rezone for the state-mandated units, we face unregulated development through state-imposed sanctions and a huge loss of funding to critical county programs.

Ironically, our housing shortage results in large part from the failure by UC Santa Barbara — a state entity — to meet its on-campus housing commitments.

Since 2010, UCSB increased its enrollment by 5,000 students and hundreds off faculty and staff, However, the university has failed to build 5,000 new student beds and 1,874 faculty and staff housing units that it committed to construct in the 2010 UCSB Long-Range Development Mitigation and Settlement Agreement between the university, the City of Goleta and Santa Barbara County.

UCSB’s on-campus housing shortfall has resulted in students, faculty and staff taking up scarce housing units throughout our community. This is why I voted, along with my colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, to sue UCSB for its failure to construct the on-campus housing it is legally and morally required to build.

Since the initial Housing Element rezone maps were released in November, I’ve been working with county Planning & Development Department staff and the public to minimize rezoning of prime, viable agricultural lands — particularly around Goleta.

Supervisor Laura Capps and I have directed county staff to look at additional parcels for rezones, including under-used shopping centers, mixed-use sites, county-owned land, office spaces and sites in Isla Vista to reduce pressure to rezone agricultural sites.

As we make progress in addressing our housing needs, I’ve endeavored to ensure that our Housing Element is guided by these principles:

  • Minimizing conversion of prime agricultural lands
  • Ensuring that as much housing as possible is affordable to people of low and moderate income
    Protecting the environment, including sensitive habitats, flora and fauna, water and air
  • Creating livable communities and neighborhoods while maintaining community character and diversity
  • Requiring mitigation of impacts, including traffic, parks, libraries and public safety services
  • Preventing precious housing stock from being depleted by short-term rentals, second homes and speculative investment
  • Doing everything possible to give housing preference to our local essential workers, such as nurses, teachers, firefighters and police officers
  • Maximizing sustainable construction and providing conditions and incentives to employ our local work force and suppliers

I share the concerns that I’ve heard from so many in Goleta about the loss of agricultural lands.

As we move forward, I remain resolute that our Housing Element must seek to balance three vital goals: mitigating impacts on the unique character of our neighborhoods, preserving and protecting our natural and agricultural resources, and avoiding state sanctions and penalties.

Source: Noozhawk