The City of Goleta is considering this land at 625 Dara Road to build 84 apartments.
The City of Goleta is considering this land at 625 Dara Road to build 84 apartments. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The City of Goleta is scrambling to find sites to potentially build housing after another round of harsh criticism from the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

Goleta’s most recent attempt to get its Housing Element certified resulted in the state saying that it was 554 housing units short in the lower-income housing category. Overall, the state has demanded that Goleta find realistic sites for the development of 1,837 units.

The Goleta City Council and Planning Commission met in a marathon, five-hour meeting Thursday to consider new sites for housing. They made some site recommendations, but will take another swing at the topic at a meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

Much of the discussion centered on Goleta’s two-pronged approach — that it has to submit a plan to the state that shows realistic sites for housing, but at the same it knows that most of the housing that would get built would be market rate, and wouldn’t address the area’s affordable housing needs.

“We have no idea how we are doing it, and no one else does either,” Councilman Stuart Kasdin said. “Everyone is going to kind of be in that brave new world and the state is going to have to come up with money, perhaps. We’ll figure it out.”

Goleta’s initial approach involved sending a document with various commercial sites proposed for potential housing rezoning, but the state slapped it down saying that Goleta needed to show that there was real potential at those sites to build housing, not just parcels on a spreadsheet that had not been vetted.

By contrast, Santa Barbara County spent more than a year examining sites and talking with developers interested in building housing before submitting its Housing Element. The county, however, had its own problems.

Not only was there an exodus of top county staff during the grueling process, but it presented mostly agricultural sites for rezoning on the edges of Goleta, a move that resulted in a major pushback from residents, particularly over the proposed rezoning of the Glen Annie Golf Club to build up to 1,500 apartments.

In addition to Goleta’s 1,837 units, the county must find land to build 4,142 units in the unincorporated area on the South Coast.

Planning Commissioner Katie Maynard urged the Goleta City Council to take the sites that it submits to the state seriously.

“Historically, [the housing allocation number] was about planning, not building,” Maynard said. “That’s not true anymore. The state is really switching this around and making it about building.”

At the meeting, the city presented more than a dozen sites for housing that were either vacant or “underutilized.”

In addition to the 554 affordable units, the City of Goleta is adding another 103 sites as padding, in case the state rejects some of its numbers. Goleta officials were getting hung up on how it could guarantee that some of the units would be affordable, when the total amount of below-market units that a developer would be forced to build with any project is 20%.

As the city haggled over sites at its meeting, Planning Commissioner Jason Chapman reminded his colleagues to remember the bigger picture, rather than getting lost in the weeds. He said the state is experiencing a major housing crisis, and that’s the reason there’s such pressure to build housing.

“This is the difference between people ending up homeless or not,” Chapman said. “If we hope to get 600 income-restricted units, and we only get 300, that’s still 300 households that may have ended up on the street, that may have ended up having to move very far away to commute to a job here. I think that’s a really positive impact to consider, not just what the state is requiring, but what the state in a bigger picture is asking us to do.”

Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte said she has concerns about the state’s process. Mandating housing, she said, won’t necessarily meet the affordability needs since private developers will be building projects that are at least 80% market rate.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to go through this kind of a game that we are playing,” Perotte said. “I understand why the state is requiring, but I don’t know if they are going to get what they really want.”

Councilman James Kyriaco said that even if the city overdoes it on the number of sites it submits, it’s better to err on that side because of the need for more housing.

“We need to have enough inventory to make sure that if enough of these projects don’t pan out with significant affordability, you have to be able to make that up somewhere,” Kyriaco said. “We should be planning for housing anywhere where it makes sense.”