June 18, 2024
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Our View: Santa Barbara City Council misses the point on rents, housing


When it comes to wasteful government spending, it’s hard to find a worse case in recent memory than the $200,000 the Santa Barbara City Council is spending to study a 2% cap on residential rents. Such a cap would be one of the most onerous in the nation.

It is astonishing to think that after enduring more than a lost generation when it comes to housing affordability, the elected officials in an important city on the Central Coast have not grasped the fundamental fact that the supply of housing is the problem.

Rent controls, rent limits, regulatory delays that increase the cost of new construction and other actions which suppress supply are only going to make matters far worse. The implications for the environment and the economy are severe.

When it comes to the economy, Santa Barbara will continue to shrink when it comes to serving regional consumers and it is putting its advantages in health care, technology and financial services at risk.

We mention the environment because lack of supply means more and more commuters on Highway 101 traveling from Ventura County or the Santa Maria area to work in Santa Barbara. Many are service workers who will continue to rely on cheaper cars with internal combustion engines and make the idea of a carbon free South Coast a joke.

Meanwhile, the city of Ventura is on a bit of a building spree, with thousands of new units coming onstream and an enlightened approach to wooing technology companies that used to be proud to call the Santa Barbara area home. Santa Paula has largely reinvented itself with a large new housing project that’s selling homes at prices that are affordable for working families.

In San Luis Obispo, new developments are creating homes for a new generation of county residents. Construction is going forward in both the city and county, bridging a deep partisan divide on other issues.

South Santa Barbara County is the region’s dominant travel and tourism destination. And the greater Santa Barbara area hosts an impressive array of leading-edge companies, including Yardi, Procore, LogicMonitor, Sonos, Deckers and others.

But it no longer has a monopoly on tech as Ventura and San Luis Obispo spawn major employers like The Trade Desk and MindBody; if it continues to suppress housing supply, the South Coast will be left with servicing tourists and wealthy residents and struggling to keep the employers it has.

A better idea would be for the communities of South Santa Barbara County to spend taxpayer dollars on a study to identify ways of developing 5,000 to 15,000 workforce housing units that minimizes impact on quality of life, prioritizes health care workers and educators and looks for ways to improve the ailing downtown Santa Barbara corridor.

Now that would be an investment worth making.