County Supervisors Approve the Housing Element Update

Despite vehement objections and threats of lawsuits by
neighborhood preservation groups, the county Board of Supervisors
at long last adopted a draft revised housing plan to send to the
state. Almost two years ago, the state rejected Santa Barbara
County’s original plan on the grounds that the county was required
by state law to accommodate more low- and very low-income housing.
As several speakers fondly noted, the board’s adoption — on a 4-0
vote — gives Santa Barbara the distinction of being the last county
in the state to have an uncertified housing element. Actually, six
other counties have housing elements that are out of compliance,
and they have yet to even submit a revised draft. Dozens of
municipalities are in the same boat.

A countywide land inventory included in the newly adopted plan
identifies enough vacant and underdeveloped land to accommodate at
least 1,235 more low-income homes than are possible under current
zoning. The process of choosing which 62 acres to actually rezone
for high-density — designated as 20 units per acre — ostensibly
affordable development will come during the action phase of the
housing element process, which promises even greater contention
than the conceptual part adopted Tuesday afternoon.

The four neighborhood groups who filed the 25-page lawyer’s
letter did so under the banner of the Coalition of California
Neighborhoods — a name that hints at their intention to band with
other disgruntled groups to challenge state housing mandates.
Member groups — including the Montecito-based Homeowners Defense
Fund, the Eastern Goleta Valley’s Coalition for Sensible Planning,
the Preservation of Santa Ynez, and the Preservation of Los
Olivos — fear that high-density housing may be forced upon their
communities. The coalition hired the law firm of Burke, Williams
& Sorensen to accuse the county of violating state law.
According to the lawyer’s letter, the plan adopted Tuesday is
unrealistic and therefore not legally acceptable. It charges the
county with creating “a document intended to placate” the state,
irrespective of its ability to make good on its promises. Because
the county has no track record of producing such high-density
developments, the coalition argues, it would end up developing many
more acres at lower density, thereby producing sprawl. It also
claimed the plan lacked sufficient analysis of water, sewage,
traffic, and other infrastructure impacts. Most pertinent to its
clients’ concerns, the letter complained that the updated housing
element effectively nullified the various community plans within
the county. Meanwhile, other groups applauded the county’s adoption
of the housing element. PUEBLO, the litigious California Rural
Assistance League, and the Coastal Housing Partnership were the
most vocal supporters of the plans to increase affordable housing.
Representing the latter, land-use attorney and former Santa Barbara
City Attorney Steve Amerikaner opined that the adopted plan is
legally sound.

County supervisors and staff said that environmental analysis
would take place during the action phase, and they solemnly
declared their deep respect for local community plans. Second
District Supervisor Susan Rose — whose district encompasses the
unincorporated Eastern Goleta Valley — said that Environmental
Impact Reviews conducted on potential rezoning sites within the
next eight months would help draft that region’s community plan.
While virtually all of the units could be built in the North
County — an option favored by some neighborhood activists — there
is substantial feeling in both north and south that the South
County should provide more housing for its workforce, rather than
encouraging long commutes. South County supervisors emphasized that
the county will never be able to meet all of its low-income housing
needs, but that it had a “moral obligation to try.”


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