In response to pressure from state housing officials concerned that Santa Barbara County accommodate its fair share of the state’s burgeoning population, the county Planning Commission unanimously approved a new housing policy to rezone 62 acres — yet to be determined — for the construction of 1,235 new housing units. Even though the North County has only half of Santa Barbara’s population, its leaders agreed to take on two-thirds of the new housing. The Planning Commission’s action comes more than two years after the state’s initial deadline.
Neighborhood preservation advocates blasted the document — known as the Housing Element — arguing that county politicians should insist on local control and defy the state’s housing mandates. They claimed upzoning, increasing the allowed density, would diminish the quality of life and there was no guarantee that any of the new housing would be affordable to low- or middle-income families. (County planners said at least 245 of the units built as a result of the rezone would be affordable.) From the other side of the fence, affordable housing advocates complained the document was way too little, way too late. Bud Laurent with the Coastal Housing Partnership — a coalition of large employers trying to address the shortage of affordable housing for their employees — noted that between 1990 and 2000, 17,000 new jobs were created on the South Coast, but only 2,000 new homes were built. That imbalance, he charged, contributed to increased freeway congestion and air pollution. Laurent complained that the South Coast was doing far less than its share to house its workers. The Housing Element must now go before the county supervisors for final approval.