According to a recent Noozhawk report, a new 160-unit project was “Fast-tracked by state law instead of the often-glacial local approval process, a new affordable housing project for seniors is rising fast in Santa Maria. Officials say a 218-unit second phase has not yet started the permitting process.”

Prior to the passage of SB 35, the “Planning and zoning: affordable housing: streamlined approval process act” cities and counties had the ability to apply zoning standards to all housing projects.  But this “bill would prohibit a local government from adopting any requirement that applies to a project solely or partially on the basis that the project receives ministerial or streamlined approval pursuant to these provisions.”

In other words, local planners and/or the City Council or Board of Supervisors would have no input into the planning process, other than applying state level building and fire safety standards. In addition, they would have to fast-track the project, meaning there would be no public hearings to air any issue’s associated with the project.

For example, this project consists of a five-story building in an area where all the surrounding buildings are single story. It’s simply out of place and inconsistent with the building types in the neighborhood.

SB 35 would “limit the authority of a local government to impose parking standards or requirements,” so there may only be limited parking on site. Considering the location of this project, there is very little, well almost no on-street parking available, and it’s more than a half-mile walk along a very busy street to the nearest retail services.

Considering the new “green energy” initiatives (mandates) it makes one wonder if these units will be all electric even though the city doesn’t require it. And since “rent estimates, including utilities, have been adjusted to between 30% and 60% of the area’s median income,” who will pay the difference between the actual cost of electricity used and what the tenants pay?

Another question concerns a mandate to convert to all-electric vehicles, will the project eventually include parking and charging stations for 378 cars, or will seniors have to take their car to a distant charging location and wait a couple of hours while the battery recharges?

Even if the tenants can afford the cheapest electric vehicle, they’ll still have to recharge them regularly. And who will pay to charge all those electric vehicles if this is a low-to-moderate income housing project if utilities are included in the rent?

For at least four years, the city of Lompoc has been subjected to similar heavy-handed affordable housing mandates. In August 2018 the city filed an objection to the conversion of a market rate apartment complex to a so-called tax credit project which is California government shorthand for rent subsidized housing.

At the time Lompoc pointed out that 76 percent of the available multifamily housing units in town were already in the low-income category. The state rejected the complaint and approved the project without allowing any input from either city planners or the City Council.

This “pack-them-and-stack-them” concept of low-income housing is reminiscent of the federal government approach that resulted in ghetto-like conditions everywhere it was implemented.

In the Lompoc letter four years ago, the city pointed out that other projects like this “have a history of high code enforcement cases and calls for public safety” and that “tax credit projects in our community fall into disrepair without monitoring in between financing infusions.”

In a more recent conversion to years ago the developer claimed they would “clean up the area” and rid the complex of gang violence.

Well, they spruced up the complex, but as soon as units were available for rent the gangs moved back in, and the police must respond to the area for loud parties, drug dealing, overdoses, fights, and shootings just as frequently as they did before the project was converted.

I am not saying the Santa Maria project, which is a newly constructed complex, would breed any worse conditions than exist in other crowded areas of their city, but packing people tightly into projects like this can lead to conflict between neighbors and create other unintended consequences.

Urban planning should be a process that is controlled by local governments, not some know-it-all politicians in faraway places.

— Ron Fink, a Lompoc resident since 1975, is retired from the aerospace industry. He has been following Lompoc politics since 1992, and after serving for 23 years appointed to various Lompoc commissions, retired from public service. The opinions expressed are his own.