A housing sites inventory in the Housing Element identifies approved projects in green, underutilized sites in tan, and vacant parcels in red. | Credit: Courtesy Goleta Housing Element

Goleta’s planning staff are moving rapidly to finalize the city’s Housing Element, reviewing their latest version with the Goleta Planning Commission on Monday evening. California’s Housing and Community Development department rejected the initial draft in September, and the new version addressed the state’s comments and also employed language similar to that used by jurisdictions that had received certification. Though the planning commissioners accepted the draft with comments unanimously, it will be up to the City Council to agree to adopt the more specific terms set out in the document, which outlines where new housing is possible in Goleta. Building it, however, is up to developers and nonprofits.

For the state, California’s housing crisis was going unresolved, despite the Housing Element rules and Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) imposed for 40 years, which require zoning changes to allow residential development. Several new housing rules were legislated, looking to push cities and counties into action.

What the state demanded was specificity as to timing and effort by the city on a number of fronts, but mostly in the new Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing section. The city’s consultant, John Douglas, said the section increased a city’s commitment to house low-income residents, the elderly, and those with special needs or who were homeless.

“The section holds a city’s feet to the fire in committing to detailed specific actions and then following through,” he said.

In response, Goleta added maps showing housing in relation to racial demographics and rental overpayment, and city staff were required to inform housing providers and residents alike of fair housing opportunities, including Section 8 information, and review those efforts every two years.

Expanding ADUs (accessory dwelling units, or granny flats) are among the alternative land-use strategies. This was one area the state was asking cities to go “above and beyond” the minimum, Douglas said. Goleta’s Housing Element looks to add 118 new ADUs by specific dates in the eight-year cycle. Tangential but important to this is a City Council meeting on December 20 to bring Goleta’s ADU rules into conformity with new state rules regarding setbacks, processing and denying ADUs, junior ADU locations and definitions, and other details. If the law were allowed to lapse, the city would forfeit the ability to regulate the units.

Another objective added to this Housing Element was to include existing mobile home units among the housing the city wants to preserve. Mobile homes provide a good portion of the affordable housing in the city, Douglas explained.

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The inventory of land that could be zoned for housing, with a calculation of how much housing density the site could support, was expanded. The inventory added parcels of less than a half-acre, which increased the number of potential sites by about 500. It also increased the possible home units to 2,600, versus the 1,800 assigned to the city for this eight-year cycle.

“This doesn’t mean all the sites will be developed,” Douglas said. “It means they are available and it’s reasonable to assume they could be.”

Among the swaths of areas so designated are a large part of Old Town and also parts of Calle Real’s commercial district. Planning Commissioner Jennifer Smith asked how they could include Old Town as an “underutilized” area when parking was already so tight with the amount of residents, businesses, and visitors to the area. Senior Planner Andy Newkirk, who had analyzed all the city parcels, said that in some areas, density was cut in half for a more realistic number on what the area could support. As well, staff was talking with property owners who were not aware of the mixed-use rules, Newkirk said, to generate more interest in the possibility.

The issue of a “by right” development arose concerning a property on Phelps owned by the Goleta Union School District. It is zoned for housing but lying fallow, and the lot has been in the “underutilized” sites inventory for two cycles. Apparently, if a development with 20 percent low-income units were proposed there, because the land has been in the inventory for two cycles, it could pass through planning with just a ministerial permit — a permit that would not include public comment, design review, or planning commission approval.

An essential issue Goleta can do little about is water. “Water will continue to be the main constraint on housing,” Planning Commissioner Smith said. Though the state asked the city to explain how it addressed water, the problem is that the city does not provide water; Goleta’s water comes from the Goleta Water District. The housing document states that the city will do what it can to support the district’s attempts to identify more water supplies.

These bits of information just skim the surface of the 200-page document. The Housing Element has been two years in the making, said Anne Wells, the planning manager for the city. At least five stakeholder meetings took place, a housing survey this past spring — 50 pages of survey answers were included in the initial draft — as well as nearly a dozen public City Council and Planning Commission meetings and workshops. Consultant John Douglas noted that the state passed on mentioning a lack of public outreach for Goleta, which it had included in most of its rejection letters to other jurisdictions.

The City Council takes up the Housing Element next year on January 17. For an advance look, the document — contained in the staff report for the Planning Commission meeting on December 12 — and the staff presentations are available at the city website for the Housing Element Update.

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