People are asking “What is happening in the City of Goleta? There is building everywhere — even in an historic drought with water rationing in sight. What happened to the ‘slow growth’ council?” In fact, it never was. The first council (of which I was a member) supported “managed growth,” which required that traffic, infrastructure impacts, and environmental protection had to be addressed before approval of a project But under state law, the city was required to zone sites to accommodate the housing needs of people of all income levels, ages, and special needs.
To achieve this, the new City Council, in its first general plan, voted to rezone a number of sites along the Hollister corridor from business park/industrial to residential. They were rezoned at 20 units to the acre, a density deemed by the California Housing and Community Development department (HCD) as being affordable in a semi-suburban area like Goleta. The majority of these sites lie between the industrial/research businesses along Hollister Avenue and the railroad and US101 to the north. They are close to work sites, including UCSB, and public transit routes along Hollister Avenue.
During the recession years that began in 2008, projects were proposed, but few moved forward. Today, with an improved economy, financing has become available, and the result is the construction that people see today. On the books, projects under construction, or with pending approvals, total 1,676 residential units, an almost 17 percent increase in five to six years over the current 10,000 units on the ground. Even being adjacent to public transit, the new housing will cause traffic impacts on already congested Hollister intersections at Storke and Fairview. Developers are required to pay fees to cover or mitigate impacts through improvements such as extra lanes and re-striping to maintain traffic flow at these sites. Environmental factors such as protection of wetlands and creek setbacks also limit some new development. Concurrent mitigation of impacts, whether of traffic or environmentally sensitive habitats, is the main growth management tool for the city today.
And what about water? Most of the projects in the pipeline have “can and will serve” letters from the Goleta Water District that were issued before the drought conditions fully surfaced. Each allocation is based on historic use at a particular site. In addition, there have been lawsuits that have included ground water rights for some sites. The Water District has declared a Stage II drought with many restrictions on water use, particularly for landscaping. While most of the larger vacant parcels already have water allocated, in the future, water shortages may limit development on new sites.
What are the housing prospects for a new arrival in Goleta? The median price for a single family home is around $708,000, and $437,000 for a condo, affordable only to individuals with incomes over $100,000 or who have significant equity. Some market-rate, single-family housing is being built that requires construction that is 15-20 percent inclusionary housing, or affordable to low and moderate-income buyers. Alternately, the developer can pay an in lieu payment to fund such inclusionary housing elsewhere.
The majority of new units, either built or in the pipeline, is for rentals and is considered more affordable because there is no down payment, and rents are usually less than mortgage payments. This will supply significant housing for people who want to work and live in Goleta but cannot afford to buy. In theory, the market will maintain rentals at a level affordable to the average working family. However a healthy rental market with a 5 percent vacancy rate may be necessary to create competitive, affordable rents.
In Goleta today, the vacancy rate is one percent. In 2014, typical rents for two-bedroom units in large apartment complexes ranged from $2,000-$2,500 per month, and for studios approximately $1,050-$1,270. With the standard yardstick that housing should not cost more that 30 percent of gross income, only those new arrivals with family income close to $80,000-$90,000 could afford to rent at these rates.
So what are new arrivals of average income to do? If they are lucky, an inheritance or help from parents may help them buy a house. But this is not an option for many. If they rent they may need to spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The addition of 1,600 new units is going to help, but they will barely make a dent in rental availability. Some may choose shared housing, with individuals or families buying or renting units together. However this can lead to crowding and sometimes unsafe conditions.
Alternatively, newcomers may choose to live in Ventura, Santa Maria, or Lompoc, where housing is more affordable, particularly for a family with children seeking a single-family home. They would then join the 19,000 commuters to the South Coast along U.S. Highway 101. This is a decision that isolates them from the community where they work, and also from the community where they live. The time spent on the road is time not available for coaching Little League, singing in the church choir, or participating in the public life of their community.
Some mitigating factors include: some employers who provide housing assistance to new hires; new businesses such as hotels required by the city to contribute toward employee housing; nonprofits such as the Santa Barbara Housing Trust Fund and the County Housing Coalition, which work to assist and provide support for workforce affordable housing. The Santa Barbara County Housing Authority and nonprofits such as People’s Self Help Housing and Housing for Humanity build and manage low-income housing including Section 8, a federally subsidized rent program.
For the foreseeable future, the local housing shortage will not change. The South Coast, including Goleta, is fenced in by the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. We cannot build ourselves out of this situation. In addition, our neighbor, UCSB, is growing and building and the Santa Barbara Airport has new growth plans.
To protect the Goleta that we love – The Goodland – we need to ensure that the impacts of every development are fully mitigated and, on occasion, urge the City Council to say “no.” To preserve the open views and quality of life that we value, we must also advocate with the county to protect the foothills and the Gaviota Coast from future development. This is not a job for the faint of heart. Communities stay beautiful and desirable through public engagement. Goletans must step up to the plate.