Carpinteria’s Planning Commission took a look Monday at the city’s upcoming Draft Housing Element, with changes addressing comments given in a letter from the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) following a 90-day state review of the document. The board unanimously accepted the draft, sending it to city council with the recommendation it be approved with all the new revisions.
It’s been a long planning process, and planning consultant John Douglas was back before the commission for the fourth time on Monday – this time around, the discussions surrounded the 13-page letter sent to the city requesting that the draft include much more detail regarding the Affirmatively Further Fair Housing goal and a more thorough inventory of potential sites for future housing.
The nature and extent of HCD’s comments on this cycle are far more extensive than previous cycles and “far more challenging than any prior update,” according to the staff report presented to the commission.
In the last cycle, from 2015 to 2023, the county of Santa Barbara had a housing quota of 11,000 units; Carpinteria’s portion was 163. In this cycle, from 2023-2031, the state upped the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) for the county to over 24,000, and the city’s quota has jumped over five times to 901.
Several commissioners asked why the jump was so high for Carpinteria. Planners explained the state’s position is that there is an extreme need for housing.
The RHNA process is considered “one of the most controversial things in the planning world,” Douglas said, but that the numbers were “typical” of what is being seen across the state. ”The takeaway from these dramatic increases in numbers is that the state legislature has declared there is a housing crisis in California and more housing needs to be produced.”
Planning Commission Chair Jane Benefield called the state’s response a “boilerplate letter,” and many of the comments were almost exactly the same as other California cities of a similar size.
She commended staff for their thorough additions to the document, which now details plans and programs for affirmatively furthering fair housing and includes hundreds of pages worth of appendices and additions checking off every box in the state’s letter.
“I don’t know what more they could ask of us,” Benefield said.
The “sites inventory summary” is expanded now to include vacant sites, underutilized sites and 21 “candidate” sites that may be part of the city’s future plans to meet a growing need for housing – specifically affordable housing – in the city.
The city identified 12 underutilized sites could account for a potential 238 units, including two motels on Via Real, several residential and commercial properties along Carpinteria Avenue and Tee Time Golf Range, which could account for 41 units through an affordable housing project to be run through People’s Self Help Housing.
The Tee Time Golf Range Property is privately owned; plans for a 99-room hospitality and farm experience on the Tee Time Golf Range will appear before the city’s boards in the future.
Vacant sites provide much fewer units, with each site only able to hold one to three units for a total of 18 potential units.
But, even with those sites, the city would be short of the state’s quota by over 420 units.
To account for the expected shortfall, the city could expand its residential overlay to allow developers the option of increasing the density up to 20-25 units per acre on certain “candidate sites.”
This wouldn’t change the base zoning regulations or eliminate existing uses, Douglas said, but it could create a lot more options, with over 2,200 potential units on 21 candidate sites, including agricultural, industrial research facilities, storage lots and commercial parcels.
For these projects, the city could also revise standards to accommodate three stories and require a certain number of affordable units as a tradeoff for developers who choose to use the option to increase density.
All of the candidate sites, Community Developer Director Steve Goggia explained, were based on property owner interest, preliminary restraints or environmental concerns, parcel size and access to infrastructure like water and power.
Another way to meet the affordable housing requirements would be to encourage residents to build the city’s soon-to-be-approved ADU models, which include two options for prefabricated units in a “California ranch” and “coastal cottage” style.
The plans for the city’s ADU program are nearly finished, and Goggia said he expects the two off-the-shelf options through the city will be available in May.
During public comment, the developer for a highly contested 173-unit housing project right outside city limits on Bailard Avenue spoke, opening up a brief back-and-forth between the project applicant, Brent Little, and the commissioners.
Little, who represents Red Tail, the company working on the project along with the Santa Barbara County Housing Authority, said that the Bailard project would meet a need for housing in the area, and that the city was originally working with the development team on a “memorandum of understanding” before the deal went sour.
At a recent public hearing, Carpinteria residents and city councilmember Wade Nomura voiced their disappointment with the whole situation, in which the city seemed to be left on the outside on a project that would need to use city utilities and public goods.
Planning Commissioner David Allen said he was not prepared to discuss all the issues with that specific project, but that “it’s a big, huge issue for the city.”
Chair Benefield expressed her own frustration, saying she keeps hearing that the city was involved, but that the planning commissioners were never given an opportunity for input.
“I never got any input as a commissioner, as a citizen – as anything,” she said. “I didn’t even know this was going on.”
Little said he hoped that the development team and the city could come back to the table and find a middle ground to make the project work to help meet the state’s housing numbers.
The commission unanimously directed staff to submit the Draft Housing Element as presented, with the recommendation that city council approve the draft with the revisions.
The commission’s newest member, former journalist Katherine Salant, who was recently appointed by the city council, abstained from the vote, stating she felt like she didn’t yet know enough about the issue.
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