This year’s Santa Barbara County Housing Element update will include sites rezoned to allow housing, which has caused controversy among people who don’t want to see certain agricultural or commercial sites be transformed into housing.  

Several county supervisors said during Tuesday’s meeting that they want to prioritize preserving productive agricultural land when they consider rezoning properties.

Planning and Development Director Lisa Plowman said planners will identify more sites than required to hit the state’s housing unit goals, and then supervisors can choose one property over another when it comes down to rezoning decisions.  

The properties have to be viable for residential development within the next eight years to meet state requirements for the Housing Element update, Plowman added.

“The state has grown quite impatient with every jurisdiction that hasn’t produced housing,” Plowman said, adding that the goals are higher and the rules are tougher.

As Noozhawk previously reported, the state requires county planners to find land, or rezone it, to build up to 5,664 new housing units by 2023, including 4,142 units on the South Coast and 1,522 units in the North County.

“There’s a long history of agencies across the state that have put up sort of paper sites or sites that never get developed for one reason or another,” Plowman said, adding that the county historically has not identified any South County sites for housing in Housing Element update cycles.

The Board of Supervisors didn’t take any action on specific rezoning sites on Tuesday, but discussed the Housing Element update in broad terms.

The draft was released on Jan. 30 for a 30-day public comment period.

“Even people who espouse more housing don’t necessarily want it near them,” Second District Supervisor Laura Capps said. She said not all communities are contributing sites for potential development and that the Goleta Valley seems to absorbing more of its share.

“We realize the Second District has received a lot of sites, and we have done our best to try and spread it around as much as possible and still get a Housing Element that the state will accept,” Plowman said.

Fourth District Supervisor Bob Nelson said the county needs to think about the jobs part of the jobs-housing imbalance and lower the barrier to development for commercial and manufacturing activity in North County activities.

“If we have jobs in North County, we take off some of that pressure that goes down south,” Nelson said. “People want to live where they work.”

The supervisors directed planning staff to study a long-term funding source for housing development, incentives for rental housing, have regular progress reports on development, and revise the annual ADU number to 150 units.

There has been a steady increase in the number of accessory dwelling unit applications, Plowman said, and the Housing Element draft projected 100 new applications per year over the next eight years.

“In 2020, we had 92 (applications) come through; in 2021, we had 166; and in 2022, we had 158,” Plowman said. “In 2023, we already have 37 applications, so if it kept pace with that it would hit close to 300.”

During public comment, many people urged the supervisors to find long-term funding for more housing projects and to have a balanced approach when deciding what properties to rezone.

“Ag land and open space should be a last priority, not a first,” Goleta Councilman Stuart Kasdin said.

Goleta Councilman James Kyriaco said the county should look at redevelopment and mixed-use sites first, in urban areas.

“It’s more than meeting a checklist provided by the state,” he said.  

Goleta has built more than 1,000 units in recent years, which is more than any other South County community, he added.

“Goleta should not provide more than 100% of a RHNA (regional housing needs allocation) requirement, but that’s what’s currently proposed here,” he said.

Steve Pepe of Clos Pepe Vineyards said some agricultural landowners like himself want rezoning to allow residential development. Rental income would even out their cash flow in the off-season and bad crop years, and help recruit and retain employees, he said.

Hilda Maldonado, superintendent of the Santa Barbara Unified School District, said it’s important to have local housing available so schools can attract high-quality teachers and staff. Developers should consider a variety of affordability levels for projects, she said.

One Nomad Village resident urged the county to think about “development without displacement” and make sure future projects don’t jeopardize existing affordable housing.

Related Stories