When I came to the Lompoc Valley in 1975, most of the city north of North Avenue was farmland. In 1979 the U.S. Air Force decided to build and operate a Space Shuttle launch and landing site on Vandenberg, and there was an immediate need for more workforce housing and commercial development to support several thousand new workers.

Throughout most of the 1980s, the farmland at the north end of town disappeared under new houses and shopping centers. The city was being strongly “encouraged” to add more low-income housing by nonprofit providers seeking to expand their footprint.  

By 2018 the city manager was reporting that 76 percent of multifamily units were in the “affordable” category; in comparison, other jurisdictions had less than 10 percent in the affordable category.

So, let’s fast forward to 2023. Our state government has encouraged millions of low-income people to seek sanctuary in our communities, has discouraged industry with higher paying jobs from remaining in our state through their green energy policies, and has subsidized the growing homeless population.

In Santa Barbara County there is a need for thousands of service industry employees in the Santa Barbara, Montecito, Goleta and Carpinteria areas. But workforce housing hasn’t kept up with demand as shown by the out-of-balance distribution of affordable housing to the city of Lompoc.

This is demonstrated daily as thousands of workers travel south from Lompoc to work at South Coast businesses.

Recently, Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann in an opinion to Noozhawk bemoaned the fact that the state of California was mandating “that the county rezone for 5,664 (affordable) units, with 4,142 units on the South Coast.”

For the last several years there have been several large market-rate (not affordable) housing and commercial developments approved on the South Coast, and the city of Goleta has added 1,400 affordable units.

Now Supervisor Hartmann is concerned that “the mandates don’t consider our local challenges such as water supply, high cost of land or, in Santa Barbara County, areas bordered by ocean, mountains and national forest — resulting in very limited buildable land.”

What’s ironic with her complaint is that it was Sacramento politicians from her own political party that created these mandates.

In the current allocation, the city of Goleta has been singled out to have two-thirds of the 4,500 units mandated by the state for Santa Barbara County in the unincorporated area surrounding their city.

And, Noozhawk reported that “In contrast, none of the county’s proposed rezones for housing are in Montecito or Hope Ranch.”

Why were the rich and famous political donors living on large estates that could easily accommodate more housing given immunity from the mandate?

To be fair, Supervisor Hartmann is consistent in her goal to protect prime agricultural land from development; she recently voted against allowing Lompoc to annex properties on the west side of the city known as the Bailey Avenue Development. And the Local Area Formation Commission (LAFCO), which approves annexations, has had a longstanding policy to protect farmland from development.

But if this had been the policy several decades ago, there would have been no development in this county since virtually every building in the county sits on what was once farm or ranch land.

And again, to be fair ,the fantasy of affordable housing has passed the last two generations by long ago. As Hartmann points out, the high cost of land is one factor, but so is inflation caused by poorly thought out fiscal policies, green energy policies and increased (costly) requirements included in building codes.

Mandating a solution does not fix the systemic problems that have been created by the political class in Sacramento; their solutions have only made matters worse.

For example, the mandate to eliminate single-family housing zones (R-1 in Lompoc) and stipulating that additional livable space on a parcel can be added without requiring additional parking on-site has created serious parking problems on residential streets. 

While this doesn’t require developing more farmland, it certainly creates a greater need for utilities including water.

In a future follow-up commentary, I will discuss what the impacts caused by so much low-income housing in Lompoc have been on the ability of the city to provide basic services.