Op-Ed: Development Gone Wrong in SB County Housing Element

Editorial Letter on SB County Housing Element Titled: Development Gone Wrong (Courtesy)

By Matt Kustura, Sustainable Santa Barbara County

On our local bluffs and scattered around are signs that read, Tsunami Zone.  To some, the thought of a local tsunami may seem far fetched.  But, if one were to have attended or listened virtually to the recent developers’ proposals on March 19th, 2024, the evidence is clear that a tsunami of unfettered development is fast approaching.  And the only higher ground one can find is to stand tall and opposed.  On the table, currently, in just 1.5 square miles, is over 4,000 high density units.  Much of the development will come at the expense of renowned agricultural land, a hallmark of this valley.  The time is now for our representatives to stand up for the land and people they represent.  They need to hold to their own word:

“It’s a plan I couldn’t support as it is now because I don’t believe it will solve our crisis. It places more than 3,000 new units (75% of the South Coast total) within a 3½-mile radius in the eastern Goleta Valley, impacting water, traffic and quality of life.” – Laura Capps (the numbers mentioned in this quote have since grown to more than 4,000 and in less space).

“I share the concerns that I’ve heard from so many in Goleta about the loss of agricultural lands.  As we move forward, I remain resolute that our Housing Element must seek to balance three vital goals: mitigating impacts on the unique character of our neighborhoods, preserving and protecting our natural and agricultural resources, and avoiding state sanctions and penalties.” – Joan Hartmann https://www.noozhawk.com/joan-hartmann-santa-barbara-countys-housing-element-must-have-proper-balance/

These projects need to be scaled back and agricultural land must be preserved to protect our environment and community.

The Environmental Impact Report (EIR), available to read at https://app.box.com/s/y6hdmwz2qubrcm0c862ehs9ddovhehyd , does an exhaustive job of showcasing the impact this scale of development will have on our social and environmental landscape.  The project comparisons in Table 4-20 of the report emphasize that the impacts on aesthetics and visual resources, agricultural resources, air quality, biological resources, hydrology and water quality, noise, land use, utilities and water supply, wildfire, and transportation will be “significant.”  The Environmental Impact Report makes it clear:  these projects on agricultural land and those in such a focused area will “significantly” impact everyone’s quality of life.

Paying no heed to the Environmental Impact Report, the developers flooded the room with mockups of high density housing projects, raining the term “affordability” on the board.  But most of the housing they peddled is at market rate.  And even with more housing in the area, the demand for housing will be ceaseless.  These thousands of people living in high density will need services, services which are not being addressed.  So the cycle continues until Santa Barbara County looks like the many other cities of California with unlimited development: congested, underfunded, and still unaffordable.  Where is the line?  When is development too much?  Why are we considering re-zoning 15% more land than is required by the Regional Housing Needs Allocation?

For starters, our agricultural land must be protected.  At the very least, the projects must be reduced. The EIR itself noted that “Reduced Project A Alternative reduces adverse impacts to the proposed Project’s 16 resource areas… When taken together and compared against the other alternatives considered for analysis, the Reduced Project A Alternative makes the most sizeable reduction in physical environmental impacts, and, therefore, would be an environmentally superior alternative to the proposed Project.” The EIR also notes that reduced projects will  reduce impacts on “Prime Farmland, Unique Farmland, and Farmland of Statewide Importance.”  But even Reduced Project A will result in “1,311,307.4 square feet of commercial development,” still a tsunami but slightly less devastating than the full onslaught of the 16 projects on the table.  Reduced projects must be the consideration standard.

The recent settlement of the lawsuits by the City of Goleta and the County of Santa Barbara against UCSB required 1,874 units to be created over the next 8 years, which aligns with the current Housing Element requirements.  These units should be included in the County’s South County allocation for housing.  Given this settlement, units should be reduced in the East Goleta Valley Agricultural Area, which has been noted as an area that will suffer the most “significant” impacts and that the Supervisor’s, themselves, stated a strong desire to protect.


With the UCSB unit contribution to the RHNA requirement, we strongly strongly recommend selecting Reduced Project A, and further removing Giorgi, Montessori, and McClosk sites from consideration.

So, a tsunami is coming.  Who will stand on the higher ground?  It is up to our Supervisors and local neighbors to stand.  We must follow the path of least impact on our land and resources.  Do not yield to the developers’ money grab, developers who have no interest in the actual wellbeing of our community.  Stand the higher ground.  Generations before us have had to make their stand, and now it is our turn to carry on in that legacy.

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  1. I agree 100% with the poster’s position. How though can the County NOT abide by King Newsom’s housing mandate that’s been forced upon us? Lawsuit? If the vast majority of this development wave isn’t truly affordable, isn’t that counter to his stated plan? Perhaps then force things to go back to the drawing board and stall out this ridiculous experiment long enough that Newsom gets booted or moves in to this next position and saner heads prevail, because for Goleta especially…there’s no going back if this goes through. Am I dreaming?

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