The Gardens on Hope
Under the direction of the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara, The Gardens on Hope will provide 90 units for low-income seniors at 251 S. Hope Ave. on the east side of La Cumbre Plaza. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The City of Santa Barbara issued permits for 350 new housing units in 2018.

Since 2015, Santa Barbara has permitted 1,017 housing units, and must produce 3,083 more by 2023, according to a state mandate overseen by the California Department of Housing and Community Development.

The Planning Commission met last Thursday to talk about its Housing Element progress and the city’s plans for meeting the requirement through 2023.

Much of what already has been created in Santa Barbara are accessory dwelling units, commonly called granny flats. Since 2015, the city has permitted 118 very low-income housing units, 84 low-income housing units, four moderate-income housing units and 811 above moderate-income housing units. Income levels are determined by the federal Housing and Urban Development Department.

“Up until 2015, we were way underproducing housing units,” city planner Renee Brooke told the commission.

Coastal cities like Santa Barbara are grappling with the scrutiny of Sacramento and then-Gov. Jerry Brown’s mandates for communities to build more affordable housing. While Santa Barbara has long adhered to a slow-growth philosophy, California is forcing municipalities to help keep pace with a state population that has grown by 15 million since 1980.

Santa Barbara has seen rapid growth after the state forced the legalization of accessory dwelling units in 2017. Four years earlier, the city approved an average-unit sized density, or AUD, incentive program that encouraged developers to build rental housing.

But the need to build more housing is offset by the scarcity of space in a city that is largely built out — and facing increasing and significant public pressure from slow-growth housing advocates.

“We’re an all built-out city,” said Sheila Lodge, a planning commissioner and former mayor. “There are few sites left. I don’t know what the city is supposed to do.”


When completed later this year, Estancia Santa Barbara will have 72 luxury townhouses and condominiums at 3714 State St. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Commission chairman Michael Jordan said building downtown housing “solves a lot of the problems.”

Commissioner Deborah Schwartz said that although much of the city is built out, it’s up to officials to do everything they can to spark development — including streamlining development.

“We have to provide some leadership,” she said. “We have to bring something to the table and not just ask the private market to do it.”

Schwartz said Santa Barbara has only has two options to meet the housing requirement: beat up on the city’s policies or “provide solutions and a path forward to producing housing” and complying with state law.

“We have a housing crisis,” she said. “We have to provide housing for every level of income below where people can buy.”

The Planning Commission made several recommendations for consideration to the City Council, mostly aimed at providing the Planning Division with more resources.

Among the more significant proposals were to “increase or re-allocate resources to accelerate multihousing production.” The commission also recommended eliminating the trial period for the AUD program, which is to conclude in 2021 or after 250 units are built.

Jordan, Schwartz and commissioner John Campanella voted in support of the recommendations while Lodge voted in opposition. Commissioners Jay Higgins, Addison Thompson and Lesley Wiscomb were absent.

“I would like to know more about what those impacts might be,” Lodge said. “Overall the demands that are being made on the planning staff are unrealistic.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at