Officials Square Off Over Housing

Seven Years, 11,000-Plus New Units

The Casas las Granadas apartments represent 12 housing units down, with 2,321 more to go in the City of Santa Barbara under the old state mandates. Now the numbers are back on the table.
Paul Wellman

The mayors, city councilmembers, and county supervisors who sit on the board of the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) have already begun to wrangle over where new housing allocations-handed down by the state to cover California’s needs for the next seven years-will go. For the 2007-2014 time period, Santa Barbara County was originally ordered to accommodate 13,000 new housing units, a mandate replacing-rather than adding to-that of the previous cycle. However, SBCAG staffers announced at the November 15 board meeting that they had persuaded the state to whittle down that number even further, to just 11,597 new units countywide-23 percent of those to be affordable to people with “very low incomes,” plus an additional 17 percent for people with incomes categorized as just “low.” By contrast, the previous seven-year allocation, distributed by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) in 1999, was 17,540 new units that Santa Barbara County and all of its cities had to divvy up and work into their zoning ordinances.

SBCAG Executive Director Jim Kemp and Deputy Director of Planning Michael Powers said they were startled to discover that Santa Barbara was the only county in California to file an appeal of the HCD’s Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) numbers, which are based on a growth forecast by the Department of Finance. After meeting on October 31 with HCD Director Lynn Jacobs, Powers and Kemp added, they are convinced that the HCD has gone as low as it will go.

The county’s lowered RHNA number stems mostly from California’s population shift from the coast to the Central Valley, meaning that some of Santa Barbara County’s cities and unincorporated areas could avoid squeezing more housing into their plans or could even reduce currently zoned densities. One fly in the ointment, however, is that housing constructed in the past seven years cannot fulfill the recalculated mandate. Only housing already zoned for, but not yet built, counts toward the new goal of 11,597 potential units countywide. Kemp said that his staff would collect information on the numbers and locations of homes already built during the previous seven-year cycle and present it at the next meeting.

The games begin in earnest after that as the SBCAG board and the public start arguing over how to distribute the state-mandated housing. North County representatives said they do not intend to take the lion’s share, as they did in 1999, provoking sighs of relief at the time in cities from Carpinteria to Goleta. Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino fired the opening volley at the November 15 meeting, in the form of a pronouncement that his city “doesn’t have room to absorb what it absorbed last time.” Lompoc Mayor Dick DeWees echoed the sentiment, adding, “There’s got to be a way for the more expensive areas of the county to accommodate their fair share. We’re built out too, and we’re not going to play that game anymore. I want to let staff know we will do our fair share, but we’re not going to do above our fair share, because it’s time for other areas to take the burden off us and other areas of the North County.”

The two South County supervisors tried to parry the thrusts. “Yes,” responded 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, who represents the determinedly suburban unincorporated area east of Goleta. “But every jurisdiction has different geographical issues. In my district, there’s not much land.” First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal-representing the exclusive enclave of Montecito, whose single-family mansions provide much of the county’s property tax revenue-spoke of “the painful process” of coming to terms with RHNA needs, but he also mentioned geographical constraints and “the value of community. Some regions want to grow more,” he added, “and some don’t.”


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