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Santa Barbara County Housing Workshop Provides Forum for South Coast Needs

South Coast representatives and community members met June 22 to discuss housing challenges and plans in Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpinteria.

“We won’t solve the housing crisis in Santa Barbara, but we can make it better,” Supervisor Das Williams said, speaking to the crowd at the Santa Barbara Public Library.

“We have a responsibility as a community to fight for this next generation, to fight for our diversity and to fight for the environment,” Williams said.

County planners say housing, climate change and transportation needs are intertwined. Since the 1960s, housing production has not kept pace with the steady increase in California’s population. Now the state needs 3-4 million new units.

Through the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA, the state requires each jurisdiction to include a development plan in its overall plan. This year’s regional allocation for Santa Barbara County is 24,856 new homes, which is significantly larger than usual.

The Santa Barbara County Government Association (SBCAG) requires 8,001 dwellings in Santa Barbara, 5,664 in unincorporated areas of the county, 5,418 in Santa Maria, 2,248 in Lompoc, 1,837 in Goleta, and 901 in Carpinteria.

Modular housing like this in downtown Santa Barbara is a way for the county to meet housing costs.

If the county doesn’t comply, it could be ineligible for state grants or crucial affordable housing loan programs, according to county staff. The county could also face litigation or financial penalties.

During a roundtable, representatives from Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpinteria discussed potential strategies for accommodating the additional units.

Policy considerations include the rezoning of agricultural or commercial areas to create mixed-use properties. Jurisdictions could also consider leasing vacant land or pursuing affordable housing projects, although funding is usually limited.

Andy Newkirk, senior town planner for Goleta, said the town is largely focused on mixed-use development and redevelopment. This process of increasing density is called upzoning.

“One of the big changes we’ll see is that a lot of our housing development that we’ve seen over the last decade was on large areas of vacant lots for multi-family residences,” Newkirk said.

“These projects are under construction, but we will no longer have this land to plan for future housing development, so we will have to look at different ways to develop housing in the future.”

At the county level, the South Coast faces a shortage of land to accommodate low- and moderate-income housing, according to Santa Barbara County senior planner Jess Steele. Steele welcomed community feedback on solutions such as property zoning.

However, she pointed out that zoning isn’t the only solution the county is considering.

“We also need to reduce the time it takes for a developer to move a project forward, it’s expensive and onerous – so we’re looking at streamlining the permitting process for various types of housing,” Steele said.

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Representatives from Santa Barbara County and South Coast cities, including Santa Barbara and Goleta, presented at the forum.

Relaxing density, parking and open space requirements could also help convert nonresidential buildings into residential ones, says Daniel Gullett, senior city planner for Santa Barbara.

Gullett points to Santa Barbara’s charm as an additional culprit for housing issues.

“I think our main problem is that so many people want to live here,” Gullett joked, explaining that many locals protect local landmarks and historic buildings.

“They’re afraid it’s losing character, and I think we need to have a better conversation about it. I think we need to embrace and celebrate new developments and be clear that this is what the community wants,” did he declare.

The workshop concluded with focus groups for each jurisdiction, where participants were encouraged to offer their feedback on potential housing strategies.

The city of Santa Barbara housing element project will be produced in July and revised in August, with an adoption hearing scheduled for February 2023. Goleta has already published his draft and will begin their 90-day review process shortly. Carpinteria lags slightly behind other jurisdictions, with plans to begin their draft in the coming months.

You can find more information about the Santa Barbara housing element update here.