The Boiling Point

Supes Punt on Housing Plan

The much-anticipated and long-dreaded Santa Barbara County
housing plan sparked community outrage and threats of lawsuits from
all sides after it was trotted out Tuesday by the Board of
Supervisors, who ultimately chose not to take final action. The
most strenuous objections came from residents of eastern Goleta
Valley, the expected destination of the bulk of the new
high-density housing development. Affordable housing advocates and
developers supportive of the Draft Housing Element Update responded
in kind.

Strange bedfellows have been made since the State of California
ordered Santa Barbara to map out its plans for providing its “fair
share” of low-income housing. Before then, the environmental
movement ran largely on the political steam provided by NIMBY
neighborhood preservation activists; social justice advocates held
hands with them while all of the above typically opposed
profit-driven developers. But the magnetic poles have shifted; on
Tuesday, über-developer Michael Towbes stood alongside the Santa
Barbara Community Action Network (SBCAN), on whose board sit many
of the progressive activists who were driving forces behind the
80,000-person population cap that inadvertently landed the City of
Santa Barbara at or near the top of the annual “most expensive
places to live” lists.

Members of the business community and low-income housing
activists may not share the same agenda, but they both wave the
banner of “smart growth” that would encourage urban infill and
concentrated affordable housing along transit corridors. Generally
speaking, people on this side of the aisle agree with the state:
Santa Barbara should build its “fair share” of housing. They are
joined by people in the North County who complain that the South
County’s failure to house its own workforce puts the housing burden
on them, not to mention crowding the freeways with commuters.

Residents in areas targeted for high density — and in those that
might eventually be pressured — are pushing back, insisting the
state has no business getting involved with Santa Barbara’s housing
policies. Chief among the dissenters is the unincorporated area of
eastern Goleta Valley, especially along Calle Real and Hollister
Avenue. One of the plan’s main strategies is zoning for 20 units
per acre in targeted areas.

“In most parts of the state, building 20 units per acre creates
affordable housing; here you get million-dollar condos,” said Mary
Whalen, vice president of the eastern Goleta neighborhood group
Citizens for Sensible Planning (CSP). Along with three other
neighborhood groups from Montecito and Santa Ynez, CSP vowed to sue
the county on procedural grounds — claiming insufficiently noticed
meetings — if the housing element is adopted. One of those
neighborhood groups was the Homeowners Defense Fund, whose first
president was movie star and Montecito resident Rob Lowe. The HDF’s
current president, Sally Jordan, accused the state of behaving
“like Hitler” in creating affordable housing mandates.

Jordan’s rhetoric paled that of affordable housing advocate
Mickey Flacks, who has pushed for 400 subsidized low-income units
on the current MTD-owned site near Turnpike. Defending state
housing mandates, Flacks compared those who oppose them to Arkansas
Governor Orval Faubus, who infamously stood at a schoolhouse door
to stop federally mandated integration.

Although Montecito has not been explicitly targeted, grumblings
about its apparent sacred-cow status and that of Hope Ranch have
been heard from various quarters. “I lived in Hope Ranch for 25
years,” said Kathy Lucien, now a resident of eastern Goleta Valley.
“We had stables, a tennis court, and nine acres of land. Everybody
in Hope Ranch has hired help. Why don’t they build some housing on
the land they all own?”

The Draft Housing Element Update returns to the Board of
Supervisors on May 9 for final decision. After that, the real
fighting begins when plans to implement the policy start to be
drawn.

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