June 18, 2024
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Goleta struggles to meet state housing standards

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It’s hard to attract and retain workers if they can’t afford to live in the region they work in, and housing elements on every level across the state are trying to fix that issue.

While initially, it seemed as if the city of Goleta was the only local jurisdiction on track to meet state deadlines for updating their housing element, the previous date set at February 15th, Goleta has since received notes on their projected plan. On March 20th, Goleta received a letter from the State Department of Housing and Community Development addressing the city’s most recently adopted revised 2023-2031 Housing Element.

In the new letter, the Department called for additional revisions necessary to meet the guidelines set by the State Housing Element Law. It was noted that the city’s adopted inventory of land “does not include a complete site analysis; therefore, the adequacy of sites and zoning were not established,” and that “the city may need to add or revise programs to address a shortfall of sites or zoning available to encourage a variety of housing types.”

In plain terms, the sites the city presented don’t meet the State’s standards in that the city hasn’t given enough proof that the sites could be developed in the next eight years.

However, it is not uncommon for housing elements to be rejected by the Department. What makes this rejection unusual is Goleta’s unwillingness to reassess the sites they’ve picked in response to the rejection.

Currently, the sites the city has identified are considered underutilized, but one erroneous stand out is the marking of a string of retail stores as potential housing. It is highly unlikely that the city will get the approval to rip out the strip mall in exchange for housing as they would first need to buy out all the lease agreements.

Supervisor Laura Capps of the County of Santa Barbara was only able to speak to the county’s housing element as it compares to Goleta’s.

“The county of Santa Barbara’s state-mandated housing element should strike the right balance to help alleviate our housing crises while providing more affordable, low-income, and workforce housing to our region,” Capps said. “Working with County Planning & Development, the housing element has been submitted to the state for review and we look forward to their feedback.”

Every housing element includes an aspect that addresses homelessness, as the state is putting a lot of time and effort into reducing it. Governor Newsom tends to put a spotlight on it.

“As required by state law, the adopted housing element plans for housing at different income levels, including low and very low-income levels and through its inclusionary housing rules ensure that a percentage of all housing built, typically 20%, is deed restricted at these affordable levels,” said Peter Imhof, the city of Goleta’s planning and environmental review director. “This affordable housing together with other programs, such as policies promoting the construction of smaller, single-room occupancy units, will help provide transitional and permanent housing for people struggling to afford to house or currently experiencing homelessness.”

And while there are of course some NIMBY contingents, the city has received extensive public comment on the housing element that has been broadly supportive of the city’s approach.

That said, the department called for further analysis of land-use controls, inclusionary requirements and processing and permit procedures. To help this process along, the department called for the city to engage with the local development community as well as interested community stakeholders.

According to the Goleta Housing Element update, the staff and the city seemed to be constrained by a lack of local political will to implement a wider range of housing solution options.
“Until we can come together as a community and agree that realistic housing solution should be our top priority, not to be outweighed by anti-growth sentiments, we will continue to constrain our ability to meet the housing crisis head-on,” the update said.

However, more employers continue to speak out about the struggles of hiring and keeping a local workforce, and this is seen as a direct result of the lack of housing stock and diverse housing options available.

“Santa Barbara County jurisdictions, along with much of the rest of the state, are experiencing a housing crisis. The lack of adequate, affordable housing makes it difficult for many businesses to hire and retain employees and induces many employees to commute long distances to get to work. Adoption of housing elements meeting the requirements of state housing law will ultimately benefit the entire community, including businesses, by helping to meet the demand for housing locally. Construction of this housing will benefit the local economy,” said Imhof. 

The main obstacle to getting Goleta’s housing element passed is not necessarily the local community objections but the housing element’s proposed locations. The properties identified as underutilized are already slated for existing development and it is unlikely housing can be built in the next eight years.

Meanwhile, Imhof maintains that “The city’s adopted housing element zones for residential land use capacity adequately meet the city’s share of the regional housing need identified by the state. This zoned residential land use capacity allows property owners and developers to propose projects and construct housing commensurate with the adopted plan.”

The State Department could not be immediately reached for comment.