Credit: Courtesy

Although the County of Santa Barbara is still technically without a certified Housing Element — along with nearly 40 percent of other jurisdictions in the state still working on their own housing plans — the county is one step closer to the finish line in drafting the plan to accommodate more than 24,000 housing units in the next eight years.

The county submitted the revised draft of its Housing Element to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) this week and according to Santa Barbara’s director of Planning and Development (P&D) Lisa Plowman, this latest version was primarily “cleanup and clarifications.” If accepted, the county will be able to adopt an official plan by the end of the year.

It has been a long and arduous process in many California counties, with the state doubling quotas. The Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors has pressured P&D to meet the region’s overwhelming demand for housing. But much of the hard work is completed, according to Plowman, and now it’s a matter of making sure the final plan meets the state’s increasingly strict guidelines.

County planning staff are optimistic because the state sent back only four pages of comments on their proposal, much less than what the state sent to the cities of Goleta and Santa Barbara, which included nearly 12 pages of recommendations and revisions. 

There are no significant changes to programs or policies in the county’s latest draft, though Plowman said some vacant sites were removed from the list, mostly due to them being either in agricultural areas or in airport safety zones.

In several public hearings, community members and housing advocates debated over which sites would have to be offered up for the sake of housing. One is San Marcos Growers, part of the county’s proposed locations to be rezoned for housing. Despite public pressure to preserve agricultural lands, the owners of the 30-acre property recently applied to build 996 units of housing as part of the county’s housing plan.

The project is a collaboration with the county Housing Authority, and with 20 percent of the units set aside as affordable housing, the developers could move forward with the project under the builder’s remedy — essentially getting a fast pass through the review process — should the county fail to adopt its Housing Element soon enough.

Now, planning staff will wait for the state to complete its 60-day review of the revised draft. If HCD finds the plan to be in compliance, the county will move through with the public hearing process toward adoption by the Board of Supervisors in late 2023. 

“It feels great to be where we are today,” Plowman said.


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