Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 12:26 am | Fair 58º


H.O.T. Issues Looming Ever Larger

In 2008, SB CAN renews its commitment to developing solutions to Housing, Open space and Transportation challenges.

This is the time of year when most of us take stock of what we accomplished in the past 12 months, as well as look forward to the new year’s challenges and opportunities. Most of SB CAN’s advocacy work focuses on our “H.O.T.” issues — Housing, Open space and Transportation. The need for building more affordable and workforce housing, for preserving open space and agricultural lands, and for creating transportation systems that reduce congestion and pollution are interconnected issues that must be addressed holistically. As such, they are key to the future of Santa Barbara County.

Here are a few of the key projects we’ve been working on:

Solving the county’s housing crisis. The county is facing a crisis with respect to the availability of affordable housing for its middle- and low-income residents. While SB CAN supports California’s requirement that we provide enough high-density zoning to meet our need for affordable housing, we opposed the county’s plan in early 2007 to locate all of its high-density rezones in the North County, with half of those sites in Orcutt. Affordable housing needs to be distributed throughout the county near job and transportation centers. We also have serious concerns about the county’s new plan to satisfy that affordable housing need in Isla Vista. Finding a solution to the housing crisis will not be easy, but quick fixes that pretend to meet the state’s mandates while failing to supply housing where it’s needed most are unacceptable.

A recent example is the county’ plan to solve the affordable housing crisis and bring in needed revenue by cultivating “Village Centers" — building brand-new towns in the middle of nowhere. SB CAN successfully opposed a development south of Orcutt that would have created 7,500 new housing units on agriculturally zoned land. But plans for new “villages” are popping up all over, including a proposed development near Lompoc and another east of Santa Maria. Creating urban sprawl and threatening agricultural resources are not effective ways to solve the housing crisis or pad the county coffers.

New development is not the only route to affordable housing. It’s equally important to conserve existing affordable housing, especially affordable rentals. Housing development that utilizes developed land — including mixed use, second units, etc. — should be encouraged. The county’s plan to prevent the conversion of affordable mobile home parks to other uses is a good first step.

Preserving open space and agricultural lands. Another crisis facing the county is the potential loss of open space and agricultural land, as commercial and residential development continues. Rural areas need to be protected from development that is out of scale or incompatible with surrounding uses. Zoning changes that erode the long-term viability of agriculture should also be limited.

Recent efforts to change the uniform rules that regulate development on land under contract with the state posed serious threats to viable agriculture. SB CAN supported some of the proposed changes, but opposed others that would have allowed development incompatible with surrounding uses. The county was wisely cautious in approving some changes while denying others, coming to what we believe to be an environmentally and economically sound decision.

Advocating for alternative transportation. Across the county, traffic congestion and pollution is increasing, while funding for alternative transportation remains sparse. The subsidizing of auto traffic continues to be prioritized as the expense of other means of transport.

While serving on the county’s advisory committee to renew Measure D in 2008, SB CAN has urged more funding for alternative transportation to help alleviate traffic congestion, reduce air pollution and increase safety. We supported funding in the South Coast expenditure plan for a commuter rail pilot program. In the North County, we helped to secure designated funding in the proposed Measure D for Safe Routes to School programs, Class II bike lanes and public transit systems.

In 2008, we face the increasing challenges of integrating Housing, Open Space and Transportation needs. SB CAN looks forward to working with the county and other organizations to create sound public policies that address these problems and preserve our quality of life.

Deborah Brasket is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network  (SB CAN). She can be reached at 805.722.5094 or at [email protected]. This commentary originally appeared in the Santa Maria Times.

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