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Randy Alcorn: Don’t Be Fooled by Santa Barbara’s Housing ‘Crisis’ Ruse

We are told that Santa Barbara has a critical shortage of housing — particularly affordable housing — so critical that it has become a crisis.

“Crisis” is one of the handiest words in the political propaganda dictionary, and as such is quite overused — usually by special interests to incite concern and anxiety from the broader community by exaggerating a condition or situation.

A crisis requires concerted, sometimes extraordinary, efforts to address it. Typically, the public looks to government to do that, and in Santa Barbara there is plenty of government.

Santa Barbara may be the busybody capital of the country. It boasts hives of commissions, boards and concerned citizens groups, mostly unelected, buzzing about to aid and abet one of the more intrusive, multitudinous municipal bureaucracies in California.

And, while much of Santa Barbara’s desirable ambience and livability is in no small part attributable to all those quasi-governmental entities and the strict dedication of city bureaucrats, the psychology of power is that it always seeks to expand, and so, left unchecked, can become unreasonable and too often abusively rapacious.

Anyone who owns property in Santa Barbara eventually discovers that he or she has increasingly limited ownership rights and that many of the rights remaining must be officially permitted — after, of course, paying the requisite fees.

Ironically, the busybody-bureaucracy apparatus established to protect and maintain what has made Santa Barbara one of the best places on earth, has gradually been commandeered by special interests that are steadily transmogrifying Santa Barbara into just another overcrowded, over-exploited place on earth.

The Architectural Board of Review, established to maintain Santa Barbara’s architectural integrity, usually busies itself with restricting property owners’ personal choices of such things as paint color and size and shape of corbels. But it has become one of Santa Barbara’s more potent busybodies whose powers apparently now encompass use of private property.

It recently denied the short-term rental conversion of a private residence located in a commercial zone. The board ruled that such a conversion was “not sound community planning.” What does that mean?

It means that the ABR has succumbed to the people-packers’ propaganda that the city has a housing crisis, and so has expanded its mission to include encouraging the provision of more housing for would-be residents.

Not surprisingly, a majority of the City Council, which last year ruled to prohibit or severely restrict property owners from offering short-term vacation rentals for fear those rentals would decrease available residential housing, upheld the ABR’s denial of the aforementioned conversion.

Not only are the busybodies and city government pillaging personal property rights but also, and more disturbingly, they are not engaging in “sound community planning.” By preventing short-term rentals in order to increase housing, and continually approving more housing projects to address a contrived housing crisis, they benefit the people-packer special interests and betray their responsibility to keep Santa Barbara the exceptionally wonderful place it has been.

There is no housing crisis in Santa Barbara and there is no shortage of affordable housing. What there is are too many people who want to live here for a price they can afford. And, there are the forces of greed all too eager to profit by building a few “affordable” units along with many more new, market-rate units.

If Santa Barbara housing is unaffordable, why are houses selling quickly at or near full asking price? Who is buying them? People who can afford them, that’s who.

Thousands of people wanting to live here but not having the financial means to do so is not a housing crisis any more than is thousands of people wanting to drive a Lexus but not being able to afford one a transportation crisis.

Nor are people having to commute from out of town to work here a housing crisis. Workforce housing is another piece of people-packer propaganda.

People all over America regularly commute to work over various distances of time and space. They often choose to live in an area they prefer rather than somewhere closer to where they work. While it may be convenient to work close to home, it is not always more desirable than having a more pleasing home requiring a longer commute.

In fact, some workers who can afford a modest home in Santa Barbara choose to live in Ventura, Lompoc, Santa Ynez or Santa Maria where they can afford a nicer home.

More population will not make Santa Barbara a better place. Attempting to accommodate all the people who would like to live in Santa Barbara will eventually make it a place no one wants to live — then people may choose to commute so they don’t have to live here.

In spite of the short-term thinking of irresponsible politicians; the selfish greed of the people-packers —not only the usual forces of greed in government and the private sector but also those people who believe they are entitled to a home here; and in spite of the pressure from well-meaning but dangerously misguided do-gooders Santa Barbara is a special place worth our efforts to preserve.

In our wiser moments, we as a people have created parks and monument areas because we recognize there are natural and historical treasures that should be protected and preserved for posterity. Why not apply that same wisdom to urban treasures?

Cities like Santa Barbara certainly qualify as one of those — for now.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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