With Santa Barbara’s city council election coming up, Noozhawk conducted a survey asking residents to identify the city’s main issues. The results pretty much confirmed what most everyone already knows: the main issues are homelessness and housing.
There is too much of the former and not enough of the latter, but if anyone expects that addressing the latter will address the former, he or she can expect to be disappointed. These two issues have defied resolution for decades — regardless of the efforts and promises by local politicians.
Has every city council over the past 70 years been so incompetent, diffident or unimaginative that it could not or would not resolve these issues, or are the solutions beyond their reach?
The prerequisite for problem solving is accurate understanding of the problem. But, the realities of both homelessness and housing are typically ignored, discounted or dismissed by elected officials — and also by many of the folks who elect them.
The realities of homelessness are that it is a national problem beyond the reach of any local government to resolve, and that certain locations, due to their mild climates and accommodating, tolerant communities, attract a disproportionate number of the homeless population — like a sugar cube attracts ants.
The more such places attempt to accommodate the homeless, the more homeless they risk getting.
The realities of housing, in Santa Barbara and much of California, are so clearly evident that those politicians who don’t acknowledge them are either deceitful or delusional. As long as Santa Barbara and places like it remain singularly desirable, demand for housing will exceed supply no matter how much new housing is built.
And, when has building more housing here ever lowered home prices? There is never enough affordable housing for those who can’t afford it.
Housing here is affordable. If it weren’t, housing would sit vacant because no one could pay for it. How much housing here lingers unsold or unrented?
Since the 1940s, hand-wringers have incessantly warned that Santa Barbara is on the verge of economic collapse because of insufficient workforce housing. And yet, in spite of there never being enough housing for everyone who wants it, the city has thrived. Relax hand-wringers, market economies will scale to their market’s size.
And, what about price-controlled workforce housing?
A large condominium complex on Las Positas Road was built as affordable housing, primarily for public employees, but soon became unrestricted market-rate housing.
Undeterred, today’s city council is approving another attempt at price-restricted workforce housing for health and public safety workers. This time on the corner of West Carrillo and Castillo streets near downtown.
Efforts to resolve the housing issue by building more of it fail because they ignore the central reality of the problem: endless demand, finite resources. The greater concern is how much population can this special place absorb without destroying it.
California’s population has already exceeded its safe carrying capacity, resulting in water shortages, power shortages, perennial wildfires, overburdened infrastructure and strained public services. Building more housing doesn’t solve the real problem, it exacerbates and perpetuates it.
Nevertheless, the state’s myopic politicians stupidly stumble toward the precipice of ecological and social disaster by passing a battery of knee-jerk, bludgeoning legislation overriding local zoning and building-regulations in a frantic effort to force more housing — and thus more people — on a state already staggering under the weight of existing population.
The state’s foolish housing edicts essentially dismantle single-family home neighborhoods. So, the house next to yours can now be replaced with a multiunit, multistory complex — with no additional parking required.
And because water is already scarce, expect to take even shorter showers and relandscape your gardens with kitty litter and cactus. Hopefully, your many new neighbors won’t obstruct your driveway when they park their vehicles up and down your street.
We can’t really expect our local elected officials to solve the housing and homelessness issues. Housing policy, now largely usurped by the state, is mostly out of their hands, and homelessness is beyond their power to resolve.
Any of the local council and mayoral candidates who campaign on resolving these issues here has to clearly explain just how they are going to do it.
I can’t wait to hear that.
The most we can expect of our local elected officials is to mitigate the many negative effects of homelessness on the community, and to discourage the homeless from coming here.
Regarding housing, the Santa Barbara City Council should protest and resist as much as possible Sacramento’s ham-fisted, people-packing housing mandates. Mostly, however, it is up to the voters throughout the state to push back against these misguided housing policies.
Other local issues cited by Santa Barbara residents in the Noozhawk survey are well within the purview of city council: road repairs, public area cleanup and facilitating permitting for home improvements (reining in busybody bureaucracy).
We need a mayor and city council that understand the realities of the issues and what the priorities are, and that focus on those they have the power to effectively address rather than engage in political posturing about concerns well beyond the scope of their office.
While the folly of district elections deprives city residents of selecting the best council candidates for the entire city, we can all vote for mayor. Mayor can be a key leadership position, especially given the fiefdom-politics of district elections.
If there is a wise owl among the flock of candidates running for mayor, we need to elect that candidate. We don’t need any more chattering magpies who only give a hoot about getting a nest higher up the political tree.
We need a mayor who has the wisdom of experience, local focus, clear understanding of the issues, pragmatism, and is unfettered from fealties to political party or special interests.
If there is such a candidate, who, who, whoooo is it?
It is Randy Rowse.
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at email@example.com, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.