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Santa Barbara County housing workshop provides forum for South Coast needs

Community members write their suggestions and hopes for housing in Santa Barbara County during a public forum.
Ashley Rusch
Community members write their suggestions and hopes for housing in Santa Barbara County during a public forum.

South Coast representatives and community members gathered on June 22 to discuss housing challenges and plans across Santa Barbara, Goleta, and Carpinteria.

“We won’t solve the housing crisis in Santa Barbara, but we can make it better,” said Supervisor Das Williams, speaking before the crowd at the Santa Barbara Public Library.

“We have a responsibility as a community to fight for that next generation, to fight for our diversity, and to fight for the environment," Williams said.

County planners say housing, climate change, and transportation needs are intertwined. Since the 1960s, housing production hasn’t kept up with California’s steadily increasing population. Now, the state needs 3-4 million new units.

Through the Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA, the state mandates that every jurisdiction include a blueprint for development in their general plan. This year’s regional allocation for Santa Barbara County is 24,856 new housing units, significantly larger than usual.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) is requiring 8,001 housing units in Santa Barbara, 5,664 in the unincorporated areas of the county, 5,418 in Santa Maria, 2,248 in Lompoc, 1,837 in Goleta, and 901 in Carpinteria.

Modular housing units located in downtown Santa Barbara
Modular housing units like this one in downtown Santa Barbara are one way the county is looking to address housing costs.

If the county fails to comply, it could be ineligible for state grants or loan programs crucial for affordable housing, according to county staff. The county could also face litigation or financial penalties.

In a panel discussion, representatives from Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpinteria discussed potential strategies to accommodate the additional units.

Policy considerations include rezoning agricultural or commercial areas to create mixed-use properties. Jurisdictions could also consider leasing vacant lands or pursue affordable housing projects, although funding is generally limited.

Andy Newkirk, senior planner with the city of Goleta, said the city is focusing largely on mixed use development and redevelopment. That process of increasing density is called upzoning.

“One of the big changes we'll see is that a lot of our housing development that we've seen over the last decade were on large vacant parcels zone for multifamily residential,” Newkirk said.

“Those projects are getting built, but we won't have that land anymore to plan for future housing development, so we're going to have to look at different ways of housing development in the future.”

On a county level, the South Coast is facing a shortage of land to accommodate lower and moderate income housing, according to Jess Steele, Senior Planner at the County of Santa Barbara. Steele welcomed community feedback on solutions like upzoning properties.

However, she emphasized that upzoning is not the only solution the county is considering.

“We also need to cut down the amount of time that it takes for a developer to push a project through, it's costly and expensive – so we're considering streamlining the permit process for various types of housing,” Steele said.

Representatives from Santa Barbara County and South Coast cities, including Santa Barbara and Goleta, presented at the forum.
Ashley Rusch
Representatives from Santa Barbara County and South Coast cities, including Santa Barbara and Goleta, presented at the forum.

Loosening density, parking, and open space requirements could also aid in converting non-residential buildings to residential, says Daniel Gullett, Principal Planner at the City of Santa Barbara.

Gullett points to Santa Barbara’s charm as an additional culprit for housing challenges.

“I think our main problem is that so many people want to live here,” Gullett joked, explaining that many residents are protective of local landmarks and historical buildings.

“They’re afraid it’s going to lose its character, and I think we need to have a better conversation about that. I do think we need to embrace and celebrate new development and make it clear that this is what the community wants,” he said.

The workshop concluded with breakout groups for each jurisdiction, where attendees were encouraged to offer their input on potential housing strategies.

The City of Santa Barbara’s draft housing element will be produced in July and reviewed in August, with an adoption hearing set to take place in February 2023. Goleta has already released their draft and will shortly begin their 90-day review process. Carpinteria trails slightly behind the other jurisdictions, with plans to start their draft in the coming months.

You can find more information about Santa Barbara’s Housing Element Update here.

Ashley Rusch was an intern with KCBX News during the summer of 2022, and the Internal News Director at KCSB-FM, UC Santa Barbara's radio station. During college, Ashley also worked as the Co-Editor-in-Chief of WORD Magazine. She graduated in June 2022 with a B.A. in Communication and minor in Journalism.