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Forum Reveals Real Cost Measure Faced by Santa Barbara County Residents

A significant portion of the area's population spend too much of their income on housing

A discussion occured Monday in regards to the the Real Cost Measure forum Click to view larger
A discussion occured Monday in regards to the the Real Cost Measure forum presented by Economic Alliance of Northern Santa Barbara County, Northern Santa Barbara County United Way, and Allan Hancock College. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)
Eddie Taylor, chief executive officer of Northern Santa Barbara Couty United Way Click to view larger
Eddie Taylor, chief executive officer of Northern Santa Barbara Couty United Way, talks at the start of a forum revealing the real cost measure of living on the Central Coast. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

A study by United Ways of California spells out the real cost of living in the state — and the fact that federal poverty numbers don’t show the full picture faced by households in Santa Barbara County.

“Struggling to Get By: The Real Coast Measure 2018,” attracted approximately 60 people to the Severson Theatre at Allan Hancock College on Monday afternoon. The event was organized by Northern Santa Barbara County United Way, EconAlliance and Hancock College.

“The bottom line is it’s real expensive to live in California,” said Henry Gascon, program and policy development director for United Ways of California.

A family of four — two adults, an infant and a school-age child — in Santa Barbara County requires an income of $76,579, according to the study. 

For a household with one adult, the budget is $26,845, while two adults would require $40,622, according to the the analysis.

The households below the real cost measure in the county add up to 41,171, or 37 percent, Gascon said. That's significantly higher than the federal poverty figure showing only 12 percent of households fall below the real cost measure.

Most of those households, or 97 percent, have at least one working adult, he added.

His analysis incorporates housing, food, health care, transportation, child care and miscellaneous costs in developing the number.

For many of those struggling households, housing costs serve as a big barrier. Some 43 percent of all households in the county spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing,Gascon added.

Those in attendance included local lawmakers, employees from local cities and school districts, nonprofit representatives and those from other industries.

A discussion followed Gascon’s presentation, with a focus on the implication and solutions to the real cost measure.

“This isn’t a welfare problem,” said Kevin Walthers, Hancock superintendent/president. “It’s a job problem.”

As talks turned to bringing in high-payjng jobs, Fifth District county Supervisor Steve Lavagnino said a disconnect exists around whether to monetize land-use matters when assessing projects.

“The reality is we've got kids living in poverty, and the best way to fix that is to provide jobs and to increase revenue,” Lavagnino said, adding that it’s a strange world where land-use decisions do not consider financial aspects. 

“It’s probably the biggest mistake we make,” he said, adding that he is not advocating for hotels along the Gaviota Coast because the open space is important.

“The pendulum has swung way crazy to the point where we can’t do anything. What is it now? It’s BANANA — build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything,” he said as the audience members laughed. 

Sitting in the audience, Ben Oakley from Pacific Coast Energy Co. said he was eager to join the conversation.

“I was going to ask the panel, if you could magically flip a switch overnight and create dozens, if not hundreds, of head-of-household jobs, would you do it?”  Oakley asked.

“It’s a trick question because there are pending proposals in this county to produce energy under the strictest requirements in the world, and all we have to do is have the political will to say yes,” he said.

While government programs provide a key safety net, he said, the oil industry could offer a step up into the middle class for struggling residents.

Rather than spending more money, Lavagnino said, the county needs to get more creative to solve problems.

That can be as simple as rethinking routines such as not restricting youth employment offices to the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., according to Glenn Morris from the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce. 

Instead, he said, the office should open in the late afternoon and early evening to accommodate youths.

One key event coming up, Lavagnino noted, is the U.S. Census, which will use the data acquired to dole out funding for vital social service programs.

“If we under count, for whatever reason, we will be short those services for the next 10 years,” Lavagnino said.

The Real Cost Measures study can be found by clicking here along with an interactive tool to determine the income needed for a houshold.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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