As our community responds to the health threat posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, residents, businesses and local government are experiencing in real time the ripple effect caused by necessary social distancing measures in the workplace and public spaces.

James Kyriaco

James Kyriaco (City of Goleta photo)

As you might expect, the closure of our K-12 schools is hitting families and local employers particularly hard, as parents scramble to make arrangements for their children, and businesses evaluate how best to accommodate this emergent need.

In the urgency of this moment, one impact that is quickly becoming a critical concern for families, businesses and policy makers is the loss of accessible, quality child care for the young children of working parents.

High-quality child care is foundational for working parents day to day. Recently, state governments and health-care organizations have deemed child care an “essential service” that is required to respond to this pandemic. We need qualified people to care for the children of first responders, health care and other essential workers to enable them to care for us.

This crisis is exposing the value of the child care service, but also the lack of infrastructure that is needed to have a strong, flexible child care system that can be there for us not just in case of emergency, but every day.

In Santa Barbara County, we have one licensed space for only half of the preschool-age children of working parents, and just one space for every five of those families’ infants. Quality child care providers often have long waiting lists, with monthly costs that rival, or in some cases exceed, the cost of local rents.

It is imperative that, even as policy makers respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, we begin to plan for how to build the public infrastructure needed to provide child care for working parents.

It’s very possible some local centers or family day care providers will not be able to survive our current crisis and may be forced to go out of business permanently. This exacerbates the problem here locally that there is just not enough high-quality child care to meet our collective need.

In the City of Goleta, we recognized this problem and have already taken a number of steps, which could be easily duplicated, to make child care more accessible.

We passed a new zoning ordinance, implementing child care zoning policies specifically tailored to incentivize new child care development, increasing accessibility to meet our demonstrably high existing need. These zoning changes include:

» Beneficial Projects: New child care centers are now classified as “Beneficial Projects,” which qualify for reductions in development impact fees of between 85 percent and 100 percent.

» Process Streamlining: Child care is now allowed in most zones, with greatly reduced permitting requirements, saving time and money for anyone proposing a center. And city staff are developing resources to support anyone wanting to start up a child care facility in the city.

» Incentives: Child care projects are now eligible to be fast-tracked, with relaxed parking requirements, and are now much easier to add to business and housing developments as an accessory use.

Goleta will be happy to share our policies as a model, and lessons learned with other jurisdictions, even as our city evaluates next steps to do more.

As meaningful as these initial steps are, it’s critical that more be done.

Santa Barbara County and local cities should be encouraged to evaluate their zoning and permit processes to find opportunities for improvements.

As new development projects are proposed, local governments can ensure that child care is incorporated into these developments, if appropriate for the site, or collect fees that can be used to mitigate the need for more child care and day care facilities.

Hiring an internal child care coordinator could be a smart investment in making sure this work gets done, and has a positive impact for many years to come.

If all the jurisdictions in the county work together, we can do our part to create a system that parents and businesses can depend on.

Increasing access to affordable, accessible and high-quality child care should be important to all of us, even those of us who do not have, or plan to have, children.

Today’s children are tomorrow’s health-care workers, first responders, teachers and entrepreneurs, and access to quality early childhood education directly correlates to a more highly skilled, emotionally intelligent and capable worker.

While policy makers explore long-term child care infrastructure improvements, our local philanthropic community is already mobilizing to meet our immediate needs.

As a testament to the importance of child care as community infrastructure, local agencies, leaders and funders have come together to address emergency child care needs for essential employees, such as health-care workers, first responders and food distributers. A fund has been set up with support of the Jane and Paul Orfalea/the Audacious Foundation and the Natalie Orfalea Foundation with Lou Buglioli.

Employers who provide essential services are polling their employees to assess their child care needs during the crisis. And unique, collaborative child care solutions are being designed for those employers to ensure children are well cared for, and parents with critical roles to play can go to work.

If you are an employer of essential workers or if you are child care provider who wants to help, please contact Eileen Monahan at

If you would like to contribute toward this effort, please contact Steve Ortiz, president and CEO of United Way of Santa Barbara County, at

By recognizing and bringing attention to the problem, and working collaboratively as strong regional partners, we can all do more to help families who need access to affordable, quality child care, which ultimately benefits all of us.

Let’s begin to create a strong child care infrastructure that will serve all of Santa Barbara County in our daily lives, and that will also remain strong and flexible to respond to our needs in times of crisis and emergency.

James Kyriaco is a Goleta city councilman and can be contacted at The opinions expressed are his own.