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Planning Ahead to Meet Housing Needs

Jobs-housing imbalance at core of challenge facing Santa Barbara County.

Remember the old slogan "Plan Ahead"? Every five years, California law requires that each county document how it has planned for enough housing to meet existing and future needs.

Last year, Santa Barbara County was scrambling to fulfill its 2003-2008 obligation by rezoning 62 acres for low-income housing.

First, the county proposed meeting the state’s requirement by placing all its high-density rezones in the North County, with half of those sites in Orcutt. When this plan met with strong opposition from the local community, county officials tried to satisfy the state by jamming all the needed rezones into the tiny and densely populated community of Isla Vista.

Neither plan met the community’s demand that affordable housing be distributed fairly across the county near job and transportation centers. Nor did putting all the rezones in Isla Vista satisfy the state, which so far has denied certification to the county’s 2003-08 Housing Element.

Even so, a new Housing Element is upon us, and the state has assigned zoning for 11,600 housing units as Santa Barbara County’s share of the state housing need for the next seven years. A Technical Planning Advisory Committee, or TPAC, has been created to help determine each local jurisdiction’s share of the county’s future housing needs. The committee will be looking at “market demand for housing, employment opportunities, availability of suitable sites and public facilities, commuting patterns, type and tenure of housing need, preserved lands and housing needs of farm workers, among other factors.”

TPAC has been meeting over the last few months but, so far, a fair means of distributing the housing across the county has yet to be found.

Earlier this month, TPAC proposed basing its Regional Housing Needs Assessment, or RHNA, numbers on an equal share of existing jobs, household growth and projected new jobs. This approach was heavily criticized by North County representatives, who feel that more emphasis must be given to existing jobs, since the North has already supplied more than its fair share of housing for commuters who work on the South Coast.

At a subsequent meeting the committee proposed a new plan for determining the RHNA numbers based on 50 percent existing jobs, 25 percent household growth, and 25 percent projected new jobs. This plan is sure to find opposition from South Coast representatives, who would like to shift housing to the North where more population and job growth is forecast.

A better plan to distribute the RHNA numbers over the next seven years might be to concentrate on correcting the county’s current jobs-housing imbalance. County studies show that in 2005 only the cities of Guadalupe and Lompoc approached a real balance of jobs and housing, whereas Goleta and Santa Barbara were the most out of balance, each having an abundance of jobs but a lack of housing to meet those employment-generated needs. The same studies project that those ratios will continue through the end of this 2007-2014 Housing Element. Guadalupe and Lompoc will still have the most balanced jobs-housing ratio and Goleta and Santa Barbara will still have far more jobs than housing.

This Housing Element offers a chance to correct current jobs-housing imbalances, giving more people the opportunity to live nearer to their jobs, so they can spend more time with their families and less time commuting. We can decrease traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and help create a greener, cleaner, safer community.

TPAC will bring its recommendations to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments meeting from 8:30 a.m. to noon Thursday at the Betteravia Government Center, 511 E. Lakeside Parkway, Santa Maria. Join us in urging SBCAG to take this opportunity to close the jobs-housing gap.

Deborah Brasket is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network  (SB CAN). She can be e-mailed by clicking hereThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it , or call 805.722.5094. This commentary originally appeared in the Santa Maria Times.

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