With the passage of the Isla Vista Master Plan last week, Santa Barbara County officials believe they have met the state’s housing mandate and have sent a letter to the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) asking for final certification. As a result of rezoning included in the plan, 1,447 additional housing units can be built in the already densely populated Isla Vista area. Of those units, 1,415 can be “built at densities ranging from 25-45 dwelling units per acre”-a density rate consistent with state guidelines for lower-income housing in the county. The 1,415 units will sit on 259 acres of recently rezoned land in Isla Vista.
County planners knew the completion of the plan would help make up for the county’s overall shortfall of available affordable units, but wouldn’t speculate on how big the effect would be until the Board of Supervisors okayed the Master Plan. Up until that point, the county had a reported shortfall of 1,235 units out of a designated 6,064 units it had to zone for by December.
The state housing mandate doesn’t call on counties to build homes, but rather requires them to prepare for housing through policy decisions and incentive packages for builders. HCD crafts a Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for agencies such as the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG), which then divvies up that number as requirements for each city and county. David Matson, the county deputy director of long-range planning, said the primary consideration in placing housing units is providing a balance between housing and available jobs. The South Coast received 38 percent of the RHNA-zoned units in the county. Another 30 percent went to the Santa Maria area-primarily Orcutt-while Santa Ynez received 13 percent, Lompoc 14 percent, and Cuyama five percent. Because the greatest job generation in the county comes from the South Coast, Isla Vista was an appropriate place for the units, Matson said.
Meanwhile, some groups have stepped up against the choice to make I.V. housing even denser. Chris Henson, director of the Coastal Housing Coalition, called the move by the county “shortsighted,” opining that the housing units should be geared to an entire county community and not just I.V.’s student population. Henson pointed to a section of the county’s Housing Element which states that the “county shall ensure adequate sites zoned at densities that accommodate the county’s ‘fair share’ housing needs for the current planning period at all income levels and in all Housing Market Areas.”
When asked if the county was just putting the units in Isla Vista to get through this round of housing mandates, Supervisor Brooks Firestone-whose 3rd District includes Isla Vista-said that various options had been studied and that the option adopted was ideal. “The county ultimately must do what the state requires us to do,” he said. First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said that while the housing crisis is by no means solved with this move, rezoning Isla Vista allows the county to move on and address the next cycle of mandates from the state. The county didn’t go about the last cycle in the most productive way, Carbajal said, but is working to improve this time around.
SBCAG is already working on the next cycle of mandates, which was first brought to its attention in July. As it sits now, the county will be forced to accommodate 13,312 new housing units between 2008 and 2014 as part of the RHNA program. SBCAG officials are attempting to negotiate with the state, saying a cookie-cutter mandate doesn’t work in Santa Barbara. “Housing Elements are a sham throughout the state of California,” Carbajal said. “The state is not providing the tools-
the creativity and the flexibility-to meet our mandates. It’s a bogus process that polarizes our community.”