What is important to you about Carpinteria? What makes this area special?

If I ask a hundred different people those questions, I would get a variety of answers: walks on the beach, the Franklin Trail, the antique shops, Chocolats du CaliBressan, the Bluffs, the Salt Marsh, the rural areas outside the city limit, Rincon Brewery, Robitaille’s, no big hotels, friendly unpretentious people, cooking your own steak at The Palms, seeing harbor seal pups, the Avocado Festival, having a four-foot tall blue heron look you in the eye as you pass it on the path at Tar Pits Park, or maybe local photographers, painters, poets and other artists finding inspiration in nearly any direction they look.

These are seemingly diverse responses, but they paint a picture that is captured in one simple statement featured on page one of Carpinteria’s General Plan, the primary planning document for the city:

“The goal of the community is to preserve the essential character of our small beach town, its family-oriented residential neighborhoods, its unique visual and natural resources and its open, rural surroundings while enhancing recreational, cultural and economic opportunities for our citizens.”

Ultimately, this is the standard against which every planning decision is measured. What effect would a proposed project have on our town, and how does that align with our community’s goal?

Recently, the Carpinteria City Council discussed a proposal to build 173 rental apartment units on seven acres at the north end of Bailard Avenue, across from Monte Vista Park. The details of the proposal are bit complicated. The land is outside the city limit, so the county of Santa Barbara is responsible for making decisions about it. The land is owned by the Carpinteria Unified School District and is under a sale option agreement with the Housing Authority of Santa Barbara County (an organization whose focus is on creating affordable housing).

However, after working through some of this complexity, concerns about the proposal begin to become apparent, as they did at the April 12 City Council meeting when members of the public and City Council members expressed worries about how it would affect Carpinteria. 

The most glaring issue raised was the density. Current zoning for these seven acres allows only one residential unit per three acres, meaning only two units are allowed. Serious rezoning would be necessary to allow the additional 171 units. The land is currently part of a low-density buffer between the existing homes north of the freeway on the west side of Bailard and the larger agricultural operations nearby with their associated noise from equipment and workers, dust, truck traffic, etc.

Related to the property having been carefully planned as a buffer, it is outside the designated Urban/Rural boundary. The entire purpose of this boundary is to discourage sprawl by containing urban development. 

The project will result in the destruction of the current buffer and expansion of the Urban/Rural boundary, severely impacting a large existing Carpinteria neighborhood. Looking ahead, it could be the first step down the slippery slope of incremental expansion of the City boundary and resume the sprawl the City experienced up through the 1980s.

The project does include affordable housing, but only with 41 of the 173 units, leaving the remaining 132 units as market-rate units developed by a for-profit developer.

The county is suggesting that after the project is built (to county standards which are more lax than the city of Carpinteria’s standards), the property would be annexed to the city. Development Impact Fees and Regional Housing Needs Assessment (RHNA) credits – a topic for another column – would potentially be split between the county and the city, but the city would be left with the ongoing impacts and the continued obligation to service the new development in perpetuity.

Let’s review this project against the goal of the community as stated in our General Plan:

“…preserve the essential character of our small beach town, its family-oriented residential neighborhoods, its unique visual and natural resources…” 


“…and its open, rural surroundings…”

Not even close!

“…while enhancing recreational, cultural and economic opportunities for our citizens.”

Well, the plans do include a playground, but it’s only for residents. So, again no.

That’s a perfect score of ZERO for this project in meeting the goal of the community.

The city could implement appropriate rezoning of land inside the existing city limit to allow affordable housing, and the in-progress General Plan update is exactly the right time to consider such changes.

If you are concerned, there are steps you can take. Contact our City Council members and let them know of your concerns (carpinteriaca.gov/city-hall/city-directory/). Also, contact our First District County Supervisor Das Williams and share your views with him (countyofsb.org/bos/home.c).

I will add one more thing that makes Carpinteria special: residents who care about our community and speak up when they see it threatened.



Mike Wondolowski is president of the Carpinteria Valley Association (CarpinteriaValleyAssociation.org), a local organization dedicated to maintaining the small beach town nature of our community. In his 30 years of involvement in planning issues, he has witnessed visionary successes, as well as decisions that were later widely regretted. When not stuck indoors, he can often be found enjoying Carpinteria’s treasures including kayaking and snorkeling along the coast, running or hiking on the bluffs or the Franklin Trail, or “vacationing” as a tent camper at the State Beach. 

Mike Wondolowski writes CVN’s monthly “Lay of the Land” column. From 30+ years active in land use planning issues, he learned public participation matters. Look for him around town kayaking, tidepooling, running, or hiking when he can escape the indoors.

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