Overlooking East Beach in Santa Barbara. (Alex Kacik)

Which Way, Santa Barbara?

Continued from the previous page

Jobs in the South, housing in the North—if Santa Barbara County is going to face its future, it may have to flip the script.



he line forms early for commuters catching the Clean Air Express from a softball complex in Santa Maria. It’s only 5:15 a.m., the moon is still up and dawn has just broken, but that’s when the first big blue coach pulls out and heads south.

Architect Rolegio Solis, 35, is already there, waiting for his bus to downtown Santa Barbara.

“This cuts four hours out of every day, and I’ve been doing it for six years,” Solis says. “I want to be able to afford a house down there. But my firm just developed some of what they call affordable units, and the pricing started at $500,000.”

Now, Solis is on the cusp of a move to an apartment in Santa Barbara that is far more expensive than his current $900-a-month rental in Santa Maria.

“I just have to do it,” he says. “I have a 2-month-old baby boy, and I need to be near my home and spend more time with him.”

Though he is a professional with a middle-class income, Solis figures it will take him another five years of scrimping and saving before he can consider buying a home in Santa Barbara.

Solis is one of more than 200,000 passengers each year who board commuter buses making 12 round trips a day from Santa Maria and Lompoc to Goleta and Santa Barbara. Monthly fares are $150—a deal—and buses are often nearly full, especially when gas prices go up. Solis’ experience illustrates an issue that has troubled local officials for decades: how to retain the South Coast’s dwindling middle class.

It’s a problem that has only grown worse over time as the middle class has been increasingly priced out of the housing market, creating a demographic barbell with a growing number of older, affluent, longtime homeowners on one end, a swelling population of low-income workers crowded into rentals on the other and not much in the middle to balance things out.

It wasn’t always the case. In 1960, a full half of all South Coast households were middle income. By 2000 that share had shrunk to 35 percent and has continued to slowly decline over the past decade, according to the 2010 U.S. census (the most recent).

Santa Barbara is a satisfied, stagnant community.

Meanwhile, the number of South Coast residents between the age of 25 and 44—prime employment years—dropped from a third of the population to 24.5 percent during the past two decades. This group now owns just 15 percent of South Coast homes.

As you might expect, given these trends, two-thirds of all workers in the city of Santa Barbara live elsewhere, according to the census, bringing nearly 25,000 incoming commuters to the South Coast each work day, along with traffic snarls and smog.

“Santa Barbara is losing what made it good, and it will be much harder to move here and live here in the future,” said Mark Schniepp, director of the California Economic Forecast and a Santa Barbara trends analyst for 35 years. “It’s hard to get mid-managers to move here because they can’t afford it. Children are leaving and can’t afford to come back. Housing prices are among the highest in the country, and we don’t build very many. We don’t develop much industry anymore. We’ve had quite a few companies born here, but then they leave because they can’t expand. Workers can’t afford the high cost of living. Santa Barbara is a satisfied, stagnant community.”

If Schniepp’s appraisal sounds like a call to action, it’s one that has been heard by government officials both reacting to and planning for the sweeping demographic changes in the county and the state.

Indeed, if economic balance is to be restored to communities and livability to workers’ lives, and if employers are to be able to hire the most qualified people, planners say their most pressing issue is the imbalance between the concentration of jobs in the south and affordable housing in the north. It is an issue that must be dealt with if local governments are to meet state-mandated housing and emissions reductions and not suffer the consequences for failing to do so.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, the planning agency that represents all eight local cities and the county, recently released a long-range plan to address these and other issues. The draft plan is scheduled for debate this summer. The question is whether local elected officials have the political will to meet the challenges.

“The jobs-housing imbalance is a huge problem, and the question is, What are we going to do about it? Will the decision-makers come through and adopt a plan? It’s a cliff-hanger,” said Peter Imhoff, deputy director of planning for SBCAG.

Amid furious debate, the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta and the County of Santa Barbara have proposed or adopted planning changes that call for more high-density housing that workers might be able to afford. But those changes are under persistent attack by groups fighting to preserve their communities as they are now.

The countywide population forecast for 2010-2040. (SBCAG / 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy / April 26, 2013)

The countywide population forecast for 2010-2040. (SBCAG / 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy / April 26, 2013)

Yet change is already happening. For decades, Santa Barbara County has steadily become poorer, older, more ethnically diverse and, of course, less friendly to middle-class families.


anta Barbara County, with its jaw-dropping wealth, aching poverty and physical beauty, reflects California as a whole. Like the state, this county is increasingly Latino, both in the inland north and the coastal south. A large majority of the county’s children are Latino, even in the south, they comprise just over 55 percent of public school students. Santa Maria, the county’s largest city, is 73 percent Latino, while Santa Barbara is 39 percent.

Despite the growing Latino population throughout the county, the conservative, agricultural north and liberal, urban south could hardly be more different.

In the north, vast expanses of prime farmland fan out to the horizon, much as they do in the San Joaquin Valley. Meanwhile, the South Coast could be a postcard snapped in the French Riviera: Its mountain backdrop frames ridgelines dotted with red-tiled mansions and wooded estates owned by the super-rich; its stylized downtown and harbor attract throngs of visitors from throughout the world.

The more affordable, land-rich north has been shaped by development-friendly policies and explosive growth, as green row crops have given way to pink, stucco subdivisions snatched up by commuters who couldn’t afford homes in the Santa Barbara area or in San Luis Obispo County. At the same time, the South Coast has hardly been growing at all because of decades-old restrictions on both commercial development and housing construction.

North County, home to many immigrant laborers, is much poorer and less educated, with about 15 percent of adults over age 25 holding at least a bachelor’s degree compared to about 43 percent in the south, according to the 2010 census. Correspondingly, about 30 percent of South County households make at least $100,000 annually, while just 13 percent do in the north. And nearly 26 percent of all North County households earn less than $25,000 a year, while about 18 percent of South County households live in such severe poverty. (The federal poverty line for a family of four is about $23,000.)

Pedestrians on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. (Alex Kacik)

Pedestrians on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. (Alex Kacik)

It may surprise some how many struggle to stay afloat in the shadow of the lovely Mediterranean facades of downtown Santa Barbara. More than half of the households in the postal zip code 93101, which surrounds lower State Street, have incomes of less than $50,000. A quarter earn less than $25,000.

Maria Garcia, 39, has lived on the Westside near the 101 Freeway and downtown for 13 years. She’s seen it change as aging two-bedroom cottages have been cleaned up and sold to professionals trying to wedge their way into home ownership.

“There’s been a lot of sales, and people are taking more pride in the neighborhood,” said Garcia one recent morning, standing before two tiny Chino Street cottages for sale that are listed between $600,000 and $700,000. “But the poorer people, they’ve been shoved into more complex-type housing. It’s hard to have so many families shoved into one place. Sometimes there are even a few families living in one house.”

Garcia, her laborer husband and their two children live in an apartment that rented for $800 when they first moved in, but now costs $1,500 a month. “My husband’s in construction. It’s been hard,” she said.

Jon Sonstelie, an economics professor at UC Santa Barbara who lives in the hills above upper State Street, said he’s been surprised by the subtle transformation—hidden behind a facade of sleek State Street office buildings—of his extended neighborhood.

“It’s only a 20-minute walk for me to State Street—about a mile—but in many respects, it’s a world away in terms of what people do, the language they speak and how they live,” said the 35-year Santa Barbara resident who bought his first house here in 1979 for $120,000 and now lives in a modest two-story worth $1 million.

Salud Carbajal, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors and a resident of Santa Barbara’s Westside, said the South Coast’s natural beauty sometimes lulls us into complacency.

“We need not forget that in this wonderful place we call paradise, we still have serious problems. We have lots of poverty,” Carbajal said. “Once you peel the onion back, once you peel back that layer of beauty, we’re like every other jurisdiction. We have challenges from health, to education, to transportation, to housing.”

Carbajal said Santa Barbara’s housing problem has confounded public officials. “I’m all for expanding our housing stock,” he said. “But quite frankly, the reason people love Santa Barbara is that it’s not overly dense. You can kill the golden goose. You have to identify the tipping point. There are opportunities for growth, but we don’t want to reach the point where people say this is no longer the Santa Barbara they love.”

You can kill the golden goose. You have to identify the tipping point.

Before the housing bubble burst in 2007, the median price of a single-family home along the South Coast was $1.26 million, a price that excluded nearly all but the very wealthy from ownership.

Today, the median sales price is about $900,000—still out of reach for most middle-class families. Steep, 20-percent down payments, a tight loan market and a dearth of lower-cost housing make it hard for middle-income workers to buy. The price of South Coast housing remains twice as high as in western Ventura County and three and a half times higher than North County.

Total employment figures between 1980 and 2010 in South County, North County and the Santa Ynez Valley. (Coastal Housing Coalition / Santa Barbara's Changing Demographics and Housing Trends / June 1, 2012 / Mission and State)

Total employment figures between 1980 and 2010 in South County, North County and the Santa Ynez Valley. (Coastal Housing Coalition / Santa Barbara's Changing Demographics and Housing Trends / June 1, 2012 / Mission and State)

Meanwhile, 57 percent of all Santa Barbara County jobs are in South County, although less than half of the county’s population lives there.

The growing imbalance of jobs and housing was first officially noted by Santa Barbara officials during a broad planning review in 1974, when city officials decided to put the brakes on rampant residential growth and set an ideal population goal of 85,000 residents. The city still has a population of only 89,000 and didn’t grow at all during the past decade. A near-cap on commercial growth became city policy in the 1980s.

At the same time, during a prolonged drought, growth in the Goleta Valley was stymied when the county refused to issue developers new water permits. That moratorium was lifted once the county hooked into the State Water Project, guaranteeing a flow of Sierra Nevada water during dry years.

Combined, though, these growth restrictions pushed up the price of housing and exacerbated a shortage of affordable housing that still has not been addressed effectively. While the City of Santa Barbara says it keeps 12 percent of its housing stock for low-income residents, no government programs have assisted the middle class in getting a start in the housing market.

Even when new housing is built, it’s often priced out of the range of the bulk of the workforce because the supply is so small and the pent-up demand is so great. The effects have been predictable.

“For the last decade or two, there has been a trend toward worker relocation from the South County,” said the association of governments’ Imhof. “The result is an increasing number of commuters from the north and the south. And there’s a whole litany of horrors associated with this.”

In all, 11,400 commuters arrive in Santa Barbara each day from Ventura County. Another 8,700 North County residents commute to the South Coast for work and about 1,900 Los Angeles County commuters work here. In addition, about 8,200 San Luis Obispo County residents work in this county, although it’s not clear how many commute to the South Coast.

Imhof was himself one of those daily drivers just a few years ago. For three years, he and his wife, Elizabeth, a Santa Barbara City College professor, commuted 60 miles each morning from the bedroom community of Orcutt, just outside Santa Maria, before they sold their house at the height of the housing market. Then, they moved to Santa Barbara and rented for five years before they bought a home in a depressed 2011 housing market.

The census found that Santa Barbara County actually lost 10,000 residents in the 35 to 44 age group over the past decade, while every other adult age group grew. Analysts say this shows middle-aged workers could not afford to live in the South County and decided to buy homes and raise their children elsewhere. At the same time, the number of school-age children in the county dropped, despite a large influx of Latino immigrants with larger families.

Jennifer McGovern, president of the Housing Trust Fund of Santa Barbara County, a nonprofit organization that helps middle-income workers buy houses through interest-free loans for down payments, is a self-described L.A. refugee who attended UCSB. McGovern said she never would have been able to crack the South Coast housing market had she not married a homeowner 15 years ago.

“We’ve been hemorrhaging with the loss of the middle class for a couple of decades. We hear a lot of employees say, ‘Oh, yeah, we love the job, but there’s no way we can put down roots here,’” said McGovern. “That has profound effects—not being able to attract highly qualified educators, public safety officers and medical employees. Or they work here and commute. They make their money here and spend it where they live. They lack community involvement. They’re not going to stay after work and coach the Little League.”

Despite the relative affordability of North County, Santa Barbara County is the fifth most expensive small-metro housing market in the nation, McGovern said, citing building-industry figures. “We’re about the same as the Bay Area, but the problem is wages are so much lower here, so there’s an affordability gap. So many people in Santa Barbara are paying 40 to 50 percent of their wages for housing.”

Imhof and his staff at the Santa Barbara Association of Governments—in league with planners from every local jurisdiction—have toiled since 2010 to craft a plan that would begin to provide a better balance of housing in the jobs-rich South Coast and more jobs in the housing-rich North County. The partial fix, he said, is to make public transportation more available and more efficient, and perhaps “to directly intervene to create more housing in the south and more jobs in the north.”

City mayors and the county Board of Supervisors approved the new 30-year plan in concept last October. The plan, known as the 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy, faces public hearings this summer. The 443-page document details what needs to be done for Santa Barbara County to comply with state and federal transportation laws and SB 375, a 2008 California law that requires coordinated land use and transportation policies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions while balancing jobs and housing in communities.

In general, the plan encourages more mass transit and more densely packed housing and commercial development along busy transportation corridors, potentially reducing the number of vehicle trips that growth is expected to produce in the future. It preserves farmland and open spaces, favoring new “infill” development on vacant parcels in cities. To do the job, it identifies $7.4 billion from voter-approved Measure A funds, plus state and federal funds aimed at reducing smog and fixing roads, that should be available over the next three decades.

The intra-county commuting pattern. (SBCAG / 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy / April 26, 2013)

The intra-county commuting pattern. (SBCAG / 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy / April 26, 2013)

Inter-county commuting. (SBCAG / 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy / April 26, 2013)

Inter-county commuting. (SBCAG / 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy / April 26, 2013)

Santa Barbara County's age distribution between 2000 and 2010. (SBCAG / 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy / April 26, 2013)

Santa Barbara County's age distribution between 2000 and 2010. (SBCAG / 2040 Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy / April 26, 2013)

A key element for South Coast compliance is production of thousands of high-density dwellings in downtown Santa Barbara, Goleta and in the unincorporated areas of East Goleta Valley and Isla Vista near UCSB. The North County focus is on construction of more business and industry, particularly near the Santa Maria airport, so thousands of residents can find jobs locally rather than commute to the South Coast or to San Luis Obispo County.

The plan calls for about 9,000 new dwellings to be built in Santa Barbara, 6,500 more in Goleta and thousands more in the East Goleta Valley and Isla Vista by 2040. Meanwhile, only about 9,500 households would be added in all of North County. But North County, which has had trouble luring big employers, would theoretically absorb 39,000 new jobs, while the South Coast job market would grow by just 5,500.

Should this occur, it would mark a reversal of the county’s recent history. During the past decade, Santa Maria added 5,447 new dwellings, 55 percent of the county total, while Goleta added 1,473, or 15 percent. Santa Barbara’s housing stock grew by just 744 units.

The housing stock in Santa Maria, Goleta and Santa Barbara in the past decade. (Mission and State)

The housing stock in Santa Maria, Goleta and Santa Barbara in the past decade. (Mission and State)

SBCAG, however, has no vote in land-use decisions. It simply recommends what local governments should do to accommodate a projected 60,200 new jobs, 41,500 new households and 96,000 new residents over the next three decades as the county grows to an expected population of 520,000.

Controversies are sure to follow as local governments begin to implement growth strategies for more high-density housing that are contrary to recent growth trends. But Imhoff said all the local jurisdictions now are working together in pursuit of a better balance of housing and jobs in the north and south.

In fact, the new regional plan is based on the county and cities’ own general plans for development and on existing regional plans, many of which have been altered in recent years to move toward balancing jobs and housing in each community.

21 comments on “Which Way, Santa Barbara?

  1. Jonathan says:

    Oh you people are SO delusional! Santa Barbara was once a “paradise” but is now a LOST cause — with the exception of vintage home owners. The likes of HOwood: AL GORE, OPRAH and KHASHOGGIS (arms dealer….) have invaded and its now about the haves with their McMansions and the ILLEGAL MEXICANS working the fields and vineyards. Oh, I forgot, the ILLEGALS are on the political agenda — to make them legal and reduce the overhead for your vintage Pinots…

    Karma, beeeeaches!

  2. Kristy says:

    I came here for work seven years ago, and we just moved back to the area. (My husband’s family is from the valley). I was completely shocked at how much SB had changed! Gone were the upper middle class families at the parks with their kids. It seems as if a whole new level of “rift-raft” types, mostly young, single renters have taken over, as well as more low income families. I now understand why. If SB keeps building “denser” units at 800 sq ft, and cramming studios, one, and, two bedrooms into the city, this is what you’ll get. Families and white collar professionals do not want this kind of housing. Even single older people want at least two bedrooms, so their families can stay with them (and not have to pay the very high hotel taxes) when they come to visit.
    Why can’t the city help out the white collar professionals who are trying to give back to the community and need normal size houses by saying, if you agree to work here three years, five, or for a certain time, we will pay x amount of your mortgage for you. This would attract wholesome families who truly have a vested interest in living here and making their community a quality place. They would be able to donate funds to their childrens’ schools, volunteer in the community, etc. More apartments are not the answer! This will only benefit young, singles, and then when they start settling down, they’ll move on.
    As a mother of three children, we will probably buy in the valley, if we decide we can stay, but sadly we will probably move back to Nashville, where there’s more healthcare jobs and 2500 a month in rent, can at least get you a laundry room in your house, a dishwasher, and enough rooms for the kids to have their space. We strictly believe your house payment should be no more than a quarter of your income and want to beside with our money. We make over 100,000/year and I still feel like we are not living in a safe area. I know most of our neighbors in our complex make much less. I feel like we are living in poverty, our apartment is bare bones, and our neighbors are college kids and poorer families, yet we are one of the few families out here trying to be responsible with money and live in what we can afford.

  3. Adam says:

    Fantastic article. Thank you for putting together a factual report on what many of us already know. Santa Barbara is not a welcoming place for young professionals or families. It’s prohibitively expensive and getting worse.

    To buy a home and raise a family here it takes two professional income earners and/or big help from someone or somewhere. Jobs in the 125-250k a year range are few and far between. Sure you can do it, and many of us do but we live on the edge for the most part justifying the expense on the premise that it’s worth it for a better lifestyle. But only the hearty, the crafty and the lucky survive. Most are living by the hair of their chinny chin chin. And looking at the above statistics as well as around my circle, many leave.

    There is no simple solution. The blame lies on unfettered immigration, years and years of failed local and state governmental policies and ridiculously bad management. And on the general attitude of “we were here first” that permeates from the previous generation(s). All of which are to blame for our current state of disillusion.

    The facts don’t lie. There are far too many poor, both working and not. And far too many imported workers who clog up the 101 every single day. It seems to me that we cater to the poor a whole lot more than any other segment. As a middle class professional, I receive no direct benefits, no advantages or subsidies, yet I (we) carry most of the costs and burden.

    The true answer is not in more housing, or the idealistic but unreal promise of affordable housing. But in reducing the population to a sustainable level by letting market forces apply. We simply have too many people being subsidized. Many of which have no real means of betterment or decent employment here.

    Whether they’re illegal immigrants and their children (who make us a large portion of both the service workers and school population) or simply those who have no real skills or real desire to work. We as a community need to get out of the business of social welfare and let the market take force. People need to move on or make due.

    If we can reduce the large percentages of people who are being aided who really don’t need it, those left, will be the ones who are truly in need and will be much better served with far less funds.

    But that’s never going to happen… and so in 20 years, we’ll have a population of retired part time vacation home owners and a few hundred convalescent/retirement homes caring for the aged, retired baby boomers… the rest of us will be scraping by and hanging on while sitting in hours of traffic. But we’ll still do it, for the lifestyle…

    Keep up the good work, this type of reporting is long overdue in Santa Barbara.

  4. daryl kelley says:

    Mr. Farwell, I see a big difference between what the story actually said and how you paraphrased it. I wrote that connection to the State Water Project guaranteed a flow of Sierra Nevada water here during dry years, while you said the article states the project “will deliver the water we need during droughts.” As you probably know, the flow of water to local governments, water agencies and farm districts diminishes during dry years and is reduced even further during extended drought. Yet a flow is guaranteed if there is any water to flow, which there always has been to this point.
    I simply take your word for your stated concern that construction of thousands more homes in the South Coast would raise the price of water and reduce the value of previously existing homes.
    I agree that state law requiring growth in all jurisdictions regardless of the availability of water, increased air pollution and other environmental harm is too broad. Yet it is the law and has been for a long time, and local jurisdictions must show an attempt to follow it or face lawsuits, which many have lost.

  5. L Farwell says:

    Daryl – my comment about the State Water Project came directly from the article. “That moratorium was lifted once the county hooked into the State Water Project, guaranteeing a flow of Sierra Nevada water during dry years.” What meaning do you take from the phrase ” . . guaranteeing a flow of Sierra Nevada water during dry years”? Why do you find it necessary to misstate what the article says?

    My real issue is definitely not the value of my property since I am not connected to a public water supply. My issue is that SB, the USA and the world refuse to live in balance with other life forms and environmental limits. You do realize that California law is law that we Californians enact? A law requiring growth regardless of the availability of water, clean air, etc. is ridiculous and needs to be repealed. It is time we stop gradually destroying California in the pursuit of growth, jobs and wealth? Please note the state of the rivers, the forests, wildlife like salmon, the flyway for millions of birds, etc.

    • daryl kelley says:

      Mr. Farwell, maybe you read what I wrote as the same as what you stated, but I see a big difference between writing, as I did, that “a flow” of sierra Nevada water was guaranteed during dry years and paraphrasing, as you did, that the project “will deliver the water we need during local droughts.” as you probably know, just a portion of the allotment of each local jurisdiction, water company or farm district would be delivered during dry years and even less during a severe drought. but it is nonetheless accurate to state that a flow of Northern California water was secured by becoming an active part of the State Water Project.
      The issue of the declining value of property because of more homes and less water per home was raised by you, not me. I was taking you at your word that this was a concern of yours.
      I agree that a law requiring growth regardless of the availability of water, the effect on air and other natural resources in all jurisdictions is legislation that is far too broad. I am not vouching for the state law that says each jurisdiction must provide its share of affordable housing only saying that it is the law and local governments must abide by it or face legal consequences, as many have.

  6. daryl kelley says:

    This commenter misstates what the story said about Santa Barbara’s water supply. It never said the state water project would deliver the water the area needs during drought. It simply said that the County of Santa Barbara froze issuance of new building permits in the Goleta area during the 1980s, and began allowing them again only after the Santa Barbara area hooked into the state water project. If a drought were severe enough, all regions of the state would endure reduced water supplies from the state project, as occurred in 1991-92 at the end of a six-year statewide drought. The commenter is right that growth in many regions, including the South Coast, is constrained by limits on water and environmental concerns. But that doesn’t mean there should be no growth. Indeed, state law demands growth in all communities, even if constrained. The commenter’s real issue seems to be that using water for new housing could one day limit the amount he uses on his landscaping, thus reducing the value of his property. It’s a legitimate concern, and one heard often by those who buy into an area and want to pull up the drawbridge after they arrive. It is a matter of perception: Did you buy when buying was affordable, or do you now want to buy now? Those who have, want to preserve the status quo; those who seek, want change to allow them in the door.

  7. L Farwell says:

    If only housing was so simple. This article totally ignores water, air and congestion impacts. And the reality of resource-based limits to growth is not limited to Santa Barbara. Much of the Country seems to be living in a fantasy where growth can go on forever. Water shortages will impact Las Vegas, Phoenix, Los Angeles and even Santa Barbara as precipitation amount, type and monthly distribution change.

    One of the inaccuracies in this article is that the State Water Project (SWP) will deliver the water we need during local droughts. Mr. Donnelly needs to read the SWP Reliability Report before he includes such inaccurate information in his stories. As an aside, both local and SWP surface water supplies delivery systems cross large, active earthquake faults that could sever 70% of our water supply for weeks or even months.

    Has anyone noticed that the SB south coast has some of the highest water rates in the State? Add 20,000 new homes and the rates will rise to the point that our landscape-free homes will be worth MUCH less. That may solve the home affordability problem but it will also insure that most of the jobs leave the area.

    Please think a bit more about this problem before feeding us the Chamber of Commerce and Mark Schniepp talking-points that we have heard for 30 years. Most of us would rather live in an environment that promotes health instead of a high-density, high-stress, highly polluted, low-wage boomtown.

    And a final postscript

    A predictable find: More people means more environmental stress
    By Julie Cart
    LA Times, June 17, 2013 .

    A federal report looking at trends in population growth, travel patterns and land use and their impact on the environment is predictably sobering.

    With the U.S. population expected to grow 42% from 2010 to 2050, the report from the federal Environmental Protection Agency offers a glimpse into the crowded world we’re in now and how planners of the future might make decisions with less environmental harm.

    Among the findings of the current situation: imperiled water supply with at least 850,000 acres of lakes, reservoirs, and ponds and 50,000 miles of rivers and streams soiled by stormwater runoff. Although vehicle emissions standards are more strict, that has been offset by a 250% increase in vehicle miles traveled since 1970.

    In the same vein, transportation is responsible for 27% of domestic greenhouse gas emissions.

    The report is an update of the agency’s 2001 study and suggests strategies such as clustering development around existing centers and near public transportation, encouraging mixed-use developments and designing streets that welcome bikers and pedestrians.

  8. joe donnelly says:

    Thanks, Mickey, for your thoughtful comment. I feel compelled to point out the irony that the quote which gives you so much offense is from the director of the California Economic Forecast, who put together the Coastal Housing Coalition report your reference, and which forms the basis for much of this report, as is made clear. Thanks for your interest in Mission and State. We hope you keep coming back.

  9. Mickey Flacks says:

    Your writer gives no credit to the conference that took place last June, sponsored by Coastal Housing Coalition and other community groups concerned with employment and with social equity. This conference brought together many community leaders (and even some “followers”) to discuss the issues you raise — as if no one had thought of them before… Far from being complacent, “satisfied and stagnant”, some of us have been working hard on these challenges for many years, and are now beginning to see a shift in community perception of the problem. Only a small minority, I submit, are afraid of any change; most of us understand that sustainability requires new and different attitudes toward Paradise… I hope your publication will help develop those attitudes — rather than smugly putting everyone down…

  10. Alex Pujo says:

    Paradise? Yes, but for who?

  11. Emily says:

    As a writer and editor here “on loan” from NYC these past three years, I’m heartened to finally see some serious journalism emerge in this town. Santa Barbara is a strangely smug, complacent place that eschews reality at a steep price. It’s time that some of the dormant intellectual capital here is put to good use and that these conversations begin to take place. Thank you for taking the first step!

  12. Dick Flacks says:

    This piece is well reported in terms of the issues and history except for a glaring omission. Attention is paid to ‘preservationists’ in the community but no mention is made of the strong grassroots base for smart growth and affordable housing. A lot of quoting of public officials and staff, but not of those citizens who have been pushing them. There is a coalition called SB4all that took the lead in the general plan update process for rezoning that would allow for affordable housing development. SBCAN is a county wide group whose agenda is focused on affordable housing, and alternative transportation. In this community, the drama and ideas around many policy issues doesn’t start at the official level, and furthermore your readers need to know if there are ways they can participate on the issues in question. The issues raised in this piece are decidedly ones where such participation can happen by getting involved with SBCAN, COAST and CAUSE. These are groups Mission & State needs to take a look at soon.

  13. Congratulations on the launch of an excellent publication!

    Your article entitled “Which way, Santa Barbara” that sheds light on a vital subject that is arguably getting worse. The challenges raised in the article are negatively impacting the community in ways that are sometimes untold and given a lack of attention by community leaders that chose to pander to those are indifferent or choose to not understand the complexity of creating balance. Through your article’s deeper look on this subject, my hope is that more people understand that a community cannot preserve a special place in a moment of time, but must manage change for the long-term benefit of the community. You can preserve fruit and land, but you cannot preserve an economy. Economies are dynamic “organisms” that exist through risk, talent and infrastructure. Without a vital economy you cannot pay for the infrastructure such as safety, schools, roads, etc. For too long, the citizens of Santa Barbara have accepted a cost of living or doing business in paradise, however, the other half of the equation is to read reports from the county economic forecast and workforce organization that paint a very concerning picture that impacts everyone in the community – young or old, working or not, rich or poor. The UCSB Economic Forecast Project recently suggested that most job growth throughout the county will be in low wage occupations – agriculture and tourism. While all jobs in these industries are not all low wage, I think most people get the picture here. A real threat to the quality of life on the central coast is a workforce skills gap, a jobs / housing imbalance, and an inability for the south coast to retain companies in high-wage industries — as the article pointed out so well. I would like to think otherwise, but the leadership in the region seems to be working on the hope and a dream that by the time they retire, these issues such as transportation and housing won’t be their problem anymore. The people of Santa Barbara deserve better leadership, planning, and realistic assessments of the challenges facing the community. A well-known Santa Barbara business leader once told me that proper planning and managing change won’t likely come because the pain and fear is not great enough by those who have influence. It is unfortunate that the children of the shrinking number of families do not know that while the sun shines on red tile roofs in paradise, they will not likely be able to own a home or find a career all because leaders make a conscious decision to kick the can down the road. It is all about leadership, leadership, leadership.

    Michael Manchak
    San Luis Obispo

    • joe donnelly says:

      Through your article’s deeper look on this subject, my hope is that more people understand that a community cannot preserve a special place in a moment of time, but must manage change for the long-term benefit of the community.
      –exacty, Michael. Thank you for the great comment.

      • Dick flacks says:

        This person ignores the long history of community planning and citizen engagement here. His great comment is pretty uninformed. Don’t buy the stereotype about ‘complacency’ please!!!

  14. TD says:

    This is well done but for one omission: a sustained examination of the area’s chronically low wages. Jennifer McGovern briefly touches on the subject, but the author fails to pursue it further. I would argue that the region’s compensation standards, which are especially perverse given the cost of living here, are every bit as problematic as the high cost of housing. In fact, the former exasperates the effects of the latter. Much as I love living here, low pay is one of the defining features of working in Santa Barbara. I doubt this can be remedied through government intervention, but it should be part of discussions about area employment and housing moving forward.

  15. Mark Bradley says:

    Very good article! Lots of good info.

    It’s clear that it’s going to take some real leadership from the City and County elected officials to deal with these issues. To read statements like “You can’t build your way out of this, I don’t know if you can fix it.” is pretty discouraging. We need to look for innovative solutions and be willing to question the status quo once a while. I guess it’s up to all of us to push for (and vote for) that kind of leadership. The idea that Santa Barbara can somehow stay wonderful by just saying “no” seems like self-delusion (not to mention selfish).

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