For decades now, the state of California has enabled local jurisdictions to prevent growth via the red tape of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. Nonetheless, California grew by leaps and bounds, as growth was transferred from “no-growth” communities to other nearby communities who got stuck with all the impacts of the same.
Santa Barbara is a poster child of this phenomenon. Growth in the South County was transferred to our north county and Ventura County; to wit, some 30,000 people commute to work here every day.
Well, things are about to change in a very dramatic manner. Our state government has initiated a jihad against no-growth communities, as it is mandating the construction of 3.5 million new homes. You read that right: 3.5 million new homes.
Jurisdictions that fail to make it easier to plan, approve or construct new projects are going to face fines upwards of $600,000 per month. And, if that fails, there are provisions in the new law to have a court-appointed agent to bring zoning and permitting plans into conformity with the legislation.
As it pertains to these new state mandates on housing, we have to be careful about a couple of things in this county:
—The temptation of both the South County and the Santa Ynez Valley to dump all of these units into the Lompoc and Santa Maria valleys.
—The temptation to value high-density (high-rises) development in lieu of “urban sprawl.” That is, will the cities opt to go up instead of going out? The reality is most people don’t want to live in an urban jungle of high-rise buildings with no open space, traffic jams, no yards, no parking, etc. We have plenty of land to plan for additional development by expanding our urban areas. After all, less than 10 percent of our county is currently developed.
What that means for the South County is that some sacred cows have to become part of the plan for these units, including Bishop Ranch and Naples. Either that, or get ready for some seriously high, high-rise buildings blocking your ocean and mountain views.
With respect to the North County, we need to move future development into the hills in order to save our prime agricultural land, which occupies the valley floors. And, the fact remains, we don’t just need new land for housing; we also need to set aside more land for jobs, including manufacturing and industrial jobs. People need a place to work in order to afford a place to live.
To facilitate this growth, the state needs to do its part to supply what is needed to accommodate this new development. That would include plans to capture and distribute the water that is going to be needed. Instead, the state has sued the federal government to prevent the creation of increased capacity at Shasta Dam. The state is also still dumping 40 percent of the water we have in storage for fish habitat and passage, including Lake Cachuma water. Instead of increasing supplies, the state has mandated a rationing plan to limit our water usage to 55 gallons per day.
How much more rationing can we expect with another 3.5 million homes to serve?
In conclusion, our state government is irresponsible to mandate this growth without lifting a finger to build and supply the requisite infrastructure, e.g., freeway capacity.
Moreover, there is no guarantee that mandating these units will make any of them affordable. Sans a master plan, there is no doubt that mandating all of these units in just such a haphazard manner will cause our quality of life to deteriorate.
You can thank the Democrats for all of the above, as they are in total control of our state.