Wednesday, July 18 , 2018, 1:33 pm | Mostly Cloudy 71º

 
 
 
 

Ron Fink: State Housing Crisis — Let Them Eat Cake

We all know that government moves slowly. In the case of one project in the country club area north of Lompoc, it has almost come to a complete stop.

On March 13, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors conducted a public hearing concerning an application filed three years earlier by Oak Hills Estate LLC to rezone from Residential Ranchette, 1 unit per 10 acres, to Design Residential, 1.8 units per acre.

The developer wasn’t providing any project details at this time, but instead will seek guidance for the future development of project site residences by creating Oak Hills Estates Design Guidelines, which would be approved by yet another set of hearings.

These likely would be “high end” custom homes unlike the higher-density tract-style homes built in other areas of the county and in many cities, including Lompoc.

The county Planning Commission held a hearing on the same project in December 2017, more than two years after the original application was filed. It recommended that the Board of Supervisors approve the developer's request so the project could move forward. But that wasn’t what happened.

There are a couple of issues to unpack here. Why does it take so long for a project to get to the point where public hearings can be convened to evaluate the developer’s request, and what about the state "housing crisis"?

When developers come to Lompoc, they often compliment its planning staff for the expeditious movement of their project through the system. Also in Lompoc, the city doesn’t design a project, the developer does.

Shortcuts aren’t taken in Lompoc. It’s just that everyone realizes that developers have a substantial investment in these properties and that they deserve timely consideration of their projects.

Lengthy, almost endless staff reviews of projects and hearings continued several times as politicians tinker with the specifics of a project are legendary in the county. Some developers can spend more than a decade just trying to get permission to submit project designs. Of course, all of this delay costs both the developer and any prospective buyers tens of thousands of dollars a year in extra cost.

The second issue is, why is the Board of Supervisors even considering a very low-density project when the state of California has declared a housing crisis? Not only that, but in their action to continue the hearing until changes could be made, some supervisors wanted to reduce the project size from 29 homes to 20.

It seems like some board members are living in a dream world — much like Marie Antoinette, who in 1789 declared “let them eat cake” when being told that her French subjects had no bread. Not having enough living space for all those “Dreamers” and all of those from other countries seeking sanctuary doesn’t seem to concern the board.

But it isn’t just these folks who need housing. Hardworking citizens earning a living wage need houses, too. The area where this project is located has very large parcels. Only the most affluent in the Lompoc Valley can afford to live there. I guess preserving this habitat for the rich and nearly famous outweighs the need for affordable housing.

Meanwhile, in Lompoc, we are told that more tightly packed, multifamily residential units are needed. For the past several years, the only new housing projects that have been built are by nonprofit corporations, and their properties have been taken off the tax rolls. Even though one such project was denied by the City Council, the state intervened and the project was built anyway.

We are being overtaken by these mandates. The city's General Fund and the school district are suffering a loss of revenue, but the need for services increases as each nonprofit project is built.

Apparently, the county is immune from any of these mandates from the state. Another mandate is that 10 percent of any project consisting of more than 10 units must be set aside for low- and moderate-income units. Apparently, this project has none.

With the loss of millions of dollars in tax revenue because of the devastation in once trendy Montecito, you would think that the Board of Supervisors would be more open to development to avoid the inevitable strain on their budget. But apparently, just like their position on oil production, the board would rather strive for a utopia that can never be rather than focus on reality.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry and has been active with Lompoc municipal government commissions and committee since 1992, including 12 years on the Lompoc Planning Commission. He is also a voting member of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association. Contact him at [email protected]. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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