The California Department of Housing and Community Development, since 1969, has required a California Regional Housing Needs Allocation, which requires that all local governments (cities and counties) adequately plan to meet the housing needs of everyone in the community, including the requirement to build affordable housing.
California’s local governments then adopt housing plans as part of their general plan to show how the jurisdiction will meet local housing needs.
However, it wasn’t until 2019, when Assembly Bill 101 was enacted, that the state put teeth into all the above.
Before 2019, communities like the city and county of Santa Barbara, especially Montecito, considered the housing requirements “advisory,” as they had no intentions whatsoever of complying with RHNA. However, via AB 101, the state threatened to take authority over local planning functions to ensure the housing gets permitted while simultaneously threatening to fine the bejesus out of jurisdictions for every month they stall (upward of $100,000 a month!).
Previously, whatever affordable housing was built in no-growth communities like the South County came at the expense of developers and their clients. The way the system worked is that the developers either had to build x number of affordable units as part of their projects or pay an in-lieu fee that would be used to build affordable units elsewhere. Then the jurisdiction would have a lottery to give away the affordable unit to some lucky person, including someone who may have just arrived here, with the caveat that the winner couldn’t sell or rent out the unit for the next 30 years or so.
Many jurisdictions, including the city and county of Santa Barbara, also threw all sorts of roadblocks in front of developers, including exorbitant fees, conditions of approval, inordinate time delays in the permitting project and severe limitations on how many units could be built.
Quite typically, a piece of land that could easily accommodate dozens of homes was downgraded in scope to a handful of homes while the rest of the property was forced into some type of conservation easement meaning the rest of the property could not be developed in perpetuity. Rancho San Marcos and Ellwood Shores are but two examples of this status quo approach to prevent housing from being built on the South Coast.
Now that the state mandate with teeth has kicked in, Santa Barbara County is doing what it has always done when it is in a pinch! Dump the housing into the Goleta Valley in much the same manner as the city of Santa Barbara located its airport in the valley, by hook and crook.
One would think that the residents and city officials of the “Good Land” would wake up and realize that “with friends like that, who needs enemies”?
What about Montecito? Well, both the city and county of Santa Barbara have always pandered to the elites in Montecito by way of the Montecito Growth Management Ordinance, which conveniently declared that growth in Montecito was a threat to public health and safety, albeit county Supervisor Das Williams may have been shamed into approving at least one project in Montecito this time around.
What’s worse? It was always left to Ventura County, Lompoc and Santa Maria to bear the brunt and the impacts of growth, commuters be damned! Hence, Ventura, Lompoc and Santa Maria have built their fair share of housing, including family housing, which has been to the advantage of their economy and quality of life.
The same cannot be said about the South County, in general, which will now end up with extremely high-density neighborhoods, including high rises that have always been anathema, because the failure to plan is always a plan to fail.
Andy Caldwell is the COLAB executive director and host of “The Andy Caldwell Show,” airing 3 to 5 p.m. weekdays on KZSB AM 1290, the News-Press radio station.