Goleta fought to preserve agricultural land like Bishop Ranch, pictured here, and intends to fight the county for farmlands next to its border. | Credit: Tom Modugno/GoletaHistory.com

On Monday, the Goleta City Council unanimously voted to send a letter to the County Board of Supervisors, commenting on the Draft Housing Element and advocating for a balanced approach to rezone site selection for new housing close to job centers and transportation corridors throughout the south coast.

Our votes in favor were an expression of strong concern about a plan that relies so heavily on agricultural land adjacent to Goleta, while seeming to shelter more affluent and well-connected communities. 

Of the 5,664 units allocated to the South Coast, 75 percent are proposed for parcels abutting the City of Goleta, and these sites provide more than 100 percent of the required low-income and moderate-income housing units for a region that stretches from Carpinteria to Goleta. 

Goleta Councilmember James Kyriaco

Shockingly, more than 77 percent of the 1,766 units of lower-income housing needed are on agricultural lands adjacent to Old Town Goleta, a majority-minority community that is historically one of the most underrepresented and politically excluded areas anywhere in our county. We are aware of no outreach to this community before site selection took place.

The county’s approach acts like an exclusionary housing policy, benefiting wealthy and well-connected areas; no sites are proposed in Montecito, Summerland, or Hope Ranch. Meanwhile the Goleta Planning Area is expected to accommodate 89 percent of the total rezones.

For a Board of Supervisors that often talks about housing in moral terms, we are surprised to see them considering a plan that asks so little of communities that already have so much.

How did this happen? Because county planners selected a process that places tremendous power in the hands of private property owners to decide the future of our communities. The state has grown frustrated with the pace of new housing development and increasingly prioritizes development potential of rezone sites over other considerations to stimulate housing construction.

Goleta Councilmember Luz Reyes-Martín

Property owners who aren’t interested in listing their site are excluded, even if it’s a good location for housing. The county should not rely on a process where private property owners, through inaction, ensure that their neighborhoods exclude affordable or multi-family housing. The role of government is to appropriately regulate and develop public policies that support the future development of housing. By not targeting infill and existing capacity sites across the south coast, the county is abdicating its responsibility to thoughtful planning. 

Meanwhile properties owned by those who are interested in listing their sites are included, even if the consequences include the loss of prime agriculture land, urban sprawl, or high-density development in high fire areas with little or no existing infrastructure.

To avoid inequitable, or even dangerous outcomes, the county must acknowledge the negative impacts of selecting sites in such a way and instead adopt a balanced approach that prioritizes infill development and mixed-use development over building on agricultural lands. There are underutilized sites across the county, including sites near affluent areas, that could easily accommodate infill development. 

What is also distressing about this process is that Goleta has been doing its part to address our regional housing crisis, completing more than 1,300 new units of affordable and workforce housing in the past decade, significantly outpacing other south coast communities during the same time period. 

On March 7, the Goleta City Council will consider the Heritage Ridge project. This is the final phase of the larger Willow Springs development, which if approved would add an additional 332 new apartments, over 100 of which would be deed restricted for low and very low-income residents.

As a community that has been and is continuing to do its part, Goleta deserves some assurance that our regional partners are also committed to addressing a crisis that affects all our communities.

We encourage the Board of Supervisors to set aside a strategy that exempts artifacts of past planning eras — retail centers, malls, and office parks — from conversion to housing in favor of paving our last remaining urban agricultural lands. Don’t ignore so much of what we have learned in recent years about where and how people work, shop, and get from place to place on the south coast because you prefer a plan that you think might be easier for the state to approve. 

We urge the Board of Supervisors to equitably distribute rezone sites so that planning areas that have not been as successful as Goleta in delivering housing can have the best possible chance to be part of the solution. Goleta should be asked to do its fair share, not almost the entire unincorporated south coast’s share when it comes to meeting our housing needs.

After publication, we learned Supervisor Das Williams is finalizing addition of a potential employee housing site in Montecito. We are encouraged by this and hope to continue the conversation toward equitably identifying sites for future housing.

James Kyriaco is City Councilmember for Goleta-District 2, and Luz Reyes-Martín is City Councilmember for Goleta District 1.


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