Second District Supervisor Gregg Hart discussed a range of county issues during a virtual town hall event Wednesday, inviting members of the public to pose questions about the status of legislation and current issues.
Mr. Hart identified his top four policy areas during Wednesday’s meeting, which include helping businesses recover after the pandemic, promoting environmental protection and renewable energy, championing racial equity and addressing widespread homelessness.
On the issue of racial justice, Mr. Hart said he wants to see Santa Barbara County become “a leader in the racial equity effort.”
Mr. Hart noted that the Board of Supervisors is already taking steps to do this, pointing to a resolution that was passed during the board’s Tuesday meeting that declared racism a public health crisis in Santa Barbara County. That resolution was brought to be board by Mr. Hart and 1st District Supervisor Das Williams.
Mr. Hart also addressed the board’s ongoing effort to spearhead criminal justice reform during Wednesday’s event. He said the board is working collaboratively with elected criminal justice officials to keep incarceration rates low and increase diversion efforts.
Before the pandemic, the county jail population held about 1,000 inmates, but that population decreased by approximately 40% since the COVID-19 crisis began, Mr. Hart said.
“There has been a steady decline in the jail’s population over the past 10 years or so through the creation of new diversion programs and those are really successful, and we need to do more of that,” Mr. Hart said.
He later added, “We want to make sure the system protects public safety but also give the best chance possible folks for folks who are in the criminal justice system to get out of the system.”
During Wednesday’s meeting, Mr. Hart also provided an update on the county’s redistricting process, which must be completed by June 2022 for the state’s next primary election.
In 2018, a majority of Santa Barbara County voters voted in favor of Measure G, a measure that gave the Board of Supervisors permission to create an 11-member independent redistricting commission who would oversee the redrawing of district boundaries. Prior to this vote, the Board of Supervisors used to complete its own redistricting.
Mr. Hart said the commission has been formed and will begin its work when it receives federal 2020 Census data in July. The results of the 2020 Census have been delayed by COVID-19, shortening the commission’s timeline to redraw district lines, Mr. Hart said.
During the Q&A portion of Wednesday’s town hall, one community member asked how county officials would ensure local residents can take advantage of new housing built as a result of the state’s Housing Needs Assessment.
The state’s most recent Regional Housing Needs Assessment recognized there is an ongoing housing crisis in California, Mr. Hart said. He noted that thousands of workers opt to commute to Santa Barbara rather than live in the city due to the lack of available housing and high rent prices.
“We have not built housing at a sufficient rate to match the increase in our population,” Mr. Hart said. “The traffic that we experience on the 101 freeway is the exact symptom of that problem because we have as many as 30,000 people commuting from outside the South County to places in North County where they live or down in Ventura County where the cost of living is less expensive than it is in Santa Barbara County.”
He continued, “The marketplace has driven what used to be local residents in the South Coast to seek homes at a more affordable price far away and drive into Santa Barbara County. We have to build more housing to meet that demand.”
To address the need for housing, the state has given Santa Barbara County a specific number of properties that is its share of the statewide housing burden, and the county is responsible for providing the zoning necessary to meet the housing goal. That process, Mr. Hart said, is already well under way.