Carpinteria Approves Draft Housing Element, Will Submit to State for Review

City Must Create Plan Proving It Could Accommodate 901 More Units over Next Eight Years

Image shows nine potential sites that could accommodate hundreds of housing units in Carpinteria. | Credit: Courtesy City of Carpinteria

Carpinteria is well on track to complete its Housing Element drafting process, proving to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) that it could accommodate the state-allocated figure of 901 housing units over the next eight-year cycle from 2023 to 2031.

While the number is one of the smaller chunks of the countywide Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA, pronounced “ree-na”) of 24,856 units — for comparison, Goleta must account for 1,837, and Santa Barbara needs to find a way to accommodate 8,001 units — Carpinteria’s challenge is how to account for more than five times as many units as the previous cycle.

During the last cycle — the fifth California Housing Element cycle — Santa Barbara County was allocated just more than 11,000 units, and Carpinteria’s portion was 163. But during this upcoming sixth cycle, the county number more than doubled, forcing city leaders to consider how to accommodate for more units than ever before.

In a special joint meeting of the Carpinteria city council and planning commission Monday night, city community development director Steve Goggia and land use expert John Douglas stopped by to present the completed first draft for discussion and direction before sending the draft to the state office for a 90-day review.

While there is still a ways to go before the Housing Element is fully certified, Douglas said that this draft marked “an important milestone” in the Housing Element program, and was the culmination of months of work, several public hearings with city boards, and countless Zoom meetings to gather community input.

He started by clearing up a few questions about what exactly the RHNA number meant for the city.

It isn’t a “housing production mandate,” he explained, and it shouldn’t be looked at as a prediction of future development or a promise that units would be built on certain properties.

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Instead, he said, it should be seen as a planning requirement forcing the city to show that it could in fact meet the housing needs allocation on sites already zoned for residential, or by rezoning other areas to allow for residential development.

“The RHNA is not a prediction of what is going to happen,” Douglas said.

The draft laid out key priorities for this next eight-year cycle, and showed several options for meeting the local housing needs, from utilizing mixed-use or “overlay” zones, encouraging accessory dwelling units (ADU’s), or using underdeveloped parcels like vacant lots.

There was discussion over the maximum number of units per acre, and whether it should be capped at 20 or allow for up to 24 units for higher density housing. Several commissioners also agreed that any plan on future development should consider the inevitable sea-level rise in coastal areas.

Councilmember Gregg Carty said he was alarmed that the RHNA numbers continued to go up each cycle, and worried that the city would eventually run out of space to develop. “That’s a serious concern of mine,” he said.

The council voted 4-1 to move forward and submit to HCD for review, with councilmember Al Clark as the sole opposing vote. He felt the residential overlay on potential sites was a “very scary prospect,” and that they were including too much in the draft and may not be able to walk it back once approved by the state officials.

Now, the draft will be submitted to HCD for a three-month review. After review, the city will revise and return to the planning commission for another round of recommendations, then to city council to review and adopt a final draft. The final draft must be certified by February 15, 2023. To view the latest Housing Element draft, visit the city’s website.

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