A view of Highway 101 in Santa Barbara.
A view of Highway 101 in Santa Barbara. The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments hosted two virtual public workshops on Thursday to gather the public’s input for the future of transportation, housing and jobs in Santa Barbara County. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Land-use planning and prioritization of area resources to address existing and future housing, transportation and jobs were highlighted at Thursday’s virtual public workshop hosted by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.

Community members provided public comment on the Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy, or Connected 2050 RTP-SCS, and California’s Regional Housing Needs Allocation, or RHNA, at two online events.

Both initiatives use local input to inform the planning and decision-making of the SBCAG board members, as well as county and city planners, according to SBCAG officials.

The final RHNA plan and the Connected 2050 RTP-SCS will be considered for adoption by the SBCAG Board of Directors in August 2021, according to SBCAG Planning Director Michael Becker.

Connected 2050 RTP-SCS is intended to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while trying to achieve several statewide and local goals, according to SBCAG.

Objectives developed by public participation help guide recommendations addressing core issue areas, including the environment, mobility and system reliability, equity, health and safety, and a prosperous economy.

Connected 2050 RTP-SCS is a federally required long-range transportation plan prepared by a metropolitan planning organization such as SBCAG, and it is updated every four years. The plan includes projections of population, household, travel demand and employment growth, and a specific list of proposed projects to be funded, according to SBCAG.

According to the draft plan, Santa Barbara County is forecast to add another 50,000 jobs by 2050 — from about 231,000 to about 281,000.

Countywide, households are expected to increase by 35,000, from about 152,000 to about 187,000 households in the 2020 to 2050 forecast horizon, according to the draft plan.

Estimates show the overall population is anticipated to increase by 61,000 people, from about 461,000 to about 522,000 in the period from 2020 to 2050.

Becker presented scenarios that represent a different vision for future development, growth and transportation in the region. The public will help SBCAG identify a “preferred growth scenario” for the county’s Connected 2050 RTP-SCS plan.

Click here for details on the three scenarios

The “Scenario 1: Transit-Oriented Development/ Infill” would get the county closest to reaching the state’s climate change goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, Becker said. The scenario would add housing near existing transit services, as well as more housing in the South County and jobs in the North County, according to SBCAG.

The scenario would be adopted into the county’s current and prior plan, Becker said.

Under Senate Bill 375, SBCAG must integrate land-use and transportation strategies that will achieve the California Air Resources Board greenhouse gas emissions reduction target.

Connected 2050 RTP-SCS is required to forecast at least a 20-year planning horizon, and Santa Barbara County is planning for the next 30 years.

The plan is a guiding document “of how we — as a community — prioritize spending within the region’s transportation system,” Becker said.

Land-use changes will put pressure on the transportation system in the county, Becker said, adding that changes to the transportation system can put pressure on land-use patterns.

“Therefore, since 2008, we have been able to think regionally,” Becker said. “Connect the dots and consider both land-use and transportation when we plan for the future.”

SBCAG focused its outreach on “well-established special interest groups” in the past, Becker said. 

This year, the regional planning agency sought input from independent voices, Becker said. This was made possible through a partnership with the Community Environmental Council, a Santa Barbara nonprofit organization.

Since the spring, two community ambassadors with the Community Environmental Council engaged the public to get firsthand input for the planning process.

“Their voices are important for all of us to hear how those of us living in our community can directly or indirectly influence the land-use and transportation planning for the future,” Becker said. 

(Santa Barbara County Association of Governments chart)

Community ambassador Alhan Diaz-Correa focused on outreach in the North County. Diaz-Correa said challenges include low wages and high housing prices.

“Some of the general themes we heard is how expensive housing is that connected with opportunities in their areas being limited,” Diaz-Correa said.

The RHNA process is undertaken by SBCAG every eight years in response to state housing law. It is used to ensure that each of the region’s nine local governments plan to accommodate a minimum number of housing units, according to Lauren Bianchi Klemann, the government affairs and public information manager for SBCAG.

More than 29,300 housing units are needed between 2023 and 2031 in the county, according to preliminary numbers. The final number should be released later this year.

Of the 29,313 units, about 16,000 are related to Senate Bill 828 that factor in overcrowding, cost burden and change to vacancy rate calculations when analyzing for regional housing needs.

“In regard to housing, Connected 2050 RTP-SCS must demonstrate on a regional level areas sufficient to house all the population of the region, including the eight-year projection of the RHNA,” according to SBCAG. “Both Connected 2050 RTP-SCS and RHNA have used local input as the basis for future demographic projections, including household growth.”

The state will provide a regionwide number of housing units, which SBCAG is required to distribute locally while considering local limitations, as well as state-defined planning objectives.

Thursday’s virtual events featured a question-and-answer session and interactive polling to solicit input from attendees. The workshops were part of a series of soliciting community feedback that began in the spring, and included listening sessions and one-on-one stakeholder meetings. 

A countywide digital survey will remain available on SBCAG’s Connected 2050 RTP-SCS site through October.

SBCAG is looking to use the public’s input to help inform long-term land-use planning and prioritization of local resources to address transportation and jobs in Santa Barbara County, as well as to help identify best strategies for a more equitable future and healthy region.

Click here for more information on Connected 2050 RTP-SCS.

Click here for more information on the Regional Housing Needs Allocation.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Brooke Holland, Noozhawk Staff Writer | @NoozhawkNews

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at bholland@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.