‘Our Neighborhood Voices’ Lost For Now, As State Housing Machine Unleashes On Communities

By Sharon Byrne   |   March 1, 2022

For those following this topic and Senate Bills 9 and 10, they took effect on January 1. These bills upzone communities by allowing four to 10 units on a single-family residential lot. Just pull your permit and go. Pushed by a cabal of pro-development forces, California embraced densification and “build, baby, build.” The intent was to vilify and override cities, counties, and NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) who just wouldn’t permit enough building.

An interim emergency Senate Bill 9 ordinance passed by the City of Santa Barbara excluded high fire zones, required one unit be affordable to “moderate” income individuals, and that lost parking be replaced to the tune of one per unit. They also limited development to certain neighborhoods with large enough lot sizes, greater than 1,200 square feet. Goleta’s emergency ordinance requires a homeowner pull the permit, not a corporation, to curb speculation. 

The County has no interim ordinance, leaving itself, and us, wide open. Residents in Montecito could see three additional housing units going up next door, with no hearings, and mere four-foot setbacks. The county’s planning staff asked should they prioritize an ordinance for our 2022 work plan? We enthusiastically say YES! The call, however, is the Board of Supervisors’. 

A ballot initiative, Our Neighborhood Voices, would amend the California constitution to reserve local land use decisions for local jurisdictions, overturning Senate Bills 9 and 10, and preventing the state from pre-empting local land use decisions in the future. Signature-gathering for the initiative was brisk in Montecito, and across the state in communities most opposed to Senate Bills 9 and 10. 

Last Friday, organizers for Our Neighborhood Voices announced they “will re-file their measure to qualify for the 2024 ballot.” Signature-gathering was hindered by “the combination of COVID-19, the dramatic spike in the cost of paid signature gathering, and the need for more time to organize volunteer signature gatherers.”

“We are not stopping, we are not slowing down, we are not ever going to give up until we have restored a neighborhood voice in community planning,” said proponent Bill Brand, Mayor of Redondo Beach. 

This is a big setback. We’ll have to push the county to adopt whatever protective ordinance we can, and they’re not moving quickly.

How did we get here? California legislators have used “3.2 million units of housing needed” to ram legislation through that removes approvals and permits, eroding local land use authority. Dick Platkin, a noted planning consultant, discredits California’s number as follows: 

“The 3.2 million figure comes from a McKinsey Global Institute consultant study that relied on New York and New Jersey housing data to draw conclusions about California.”

The Biden Administration has put that number at 3.9 million units nationwide. The White House also noted, with alarm, that one in five U.S. homes was bought by investors in 2021. In some markets, it was one in four. Investors paying cash for residential homes will certainly eat into “supply” and make it harder for families to get a home, while driving up prices.

The California Building Industry Association, California Association of Realtors, and YIMBY groups (Yes in My Backyard – mainly male, millennial advocates) pushed the state loudly for more supply. They want to build more luxury and “market-rate” housing that will “trickle down” so they can afford a place to live. If you’re surprised to see young progressives spouting Reagan-era policies as the new panacea, YIMBY is funded by Big Tech, who wants housing for their workers. That Big Tech doesn’t have to pay for, of course. Campaign contributions to state legislators are far less expensive than building housing for one’s workers.

A quick review of RHNA (Regional Housing Needs Assessment) numbers, which are created by the state’s Housing and Community Development Department, and mandated on local jurisdictions, shows that California is overbuilding for moderate / above moderate-income brackets, while vastly underbuilding for low / very low-income brackets. The state only permitted 1,040 housing units for sale in 2021 to the low-income group of some 5.3 million Californians. In contrast, 600,000 permits for housing were issued in California for the moderate / above-moderate income categories, comprised of some 5.6 million people. 

So much for California’s proselytizing of ‘increased opportunities for equity.’ The state didn’t offer much for low-income families to get a leg up when it came to housing. 

Vacancies, which should be non-existent in a housing crisis, are finally just starting to get attention. The United States Census Bureau counts vacation rental homes as vacant. Pacaso, Airbnb, and VRBO all remove housing supply, and elected officials are seemingly blind while neighborhoods are transformed into tourist party zones. There are 90,000 vacant units in L.A., and 50,000 homeless people. San Francisco was just embarrassed by a study revealing 40,000 vacant units, a vacancy rate of 10%. The more egregious California housing bills are coming from San Francisco’s senator Scott Wiener, so this is especially ironic, or perhaps not, considering he is seen as the developer’s “inside man” in Sacramento. Vacancy taxes could be used as a way to curb speculative practices, while generating revenues to build affordable housing. 

As we move two people we’ve sheltered through Hands Across Montecito into housing this week, we well understand the need for affordable housing, and how the state isn’t providing it, while unleashing a Wild West on residential neighborhoods.

Sharon Byrne is the Executive Director of the Montecito Association  


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