SEPPS Community Participation – 2017 Coastal Housing Coalition 4th Annual Santa Barbara Housing Conference

I have had the pleasure of serving on the Board of the Coastal Housing Coalition (CHC) since 2014.  The CHC is a non-profit organization and the voice of local employers and employees in support of workforce housing. The Coalition’s founding mission is to educate the community about the critical need for middle-income housing and to advocate that community decision makers accommodate such housing in land use decisions.  As my wife and I rent a home in Santa Barbara this is a topic that is important to me.


Recently the CHC hosted our 4th Annual Santa Barbara Housing Conference at the historic Carrillo Recreation Center.   Attendance was outstanding, once again supporting the idea that workforce housing is of critical concern.  Approximately 200 people attended the conference including elected officials, appointed government decision makers, government employees, a variety of consultants, housing advocates, and citizens concerned about the future of work force housing and how an inadequate supply impacts our quality of life and economy.  Panelists and speakers consisted of local government experts, local planners and consultants, a legislative analyst from Sacramento, business stakeholders, and the Executive Director of the Center for Economic Research and Forecasting at Cal Lutheran University.


This was the second time I moderated a breakout session at a CHC conference.  This year I assisted with moderating a session titled Making Housing A Priority: Act or React.  While the planning and coordination involved with the session and the conference as a whole can be a bit overwhelming for a group of volunteers (“wait, we are having an event for 200 people and we have to feed them and educate them!?”), the payoff comes when invited panelists do a great job, the dialogue and interaction is flowing and insightful, the conference goes off without a hitch, and the community is engaged in a productive dialogue that potentially advances the discussion in a meaningful way.


Housing is indeed a complicated issue in the very desirable and constrained South Coast of Santa Barbara County.   Michael Towbes was famously quoted as saying “The two things people are against are density and sprawl.”  My perspective is that there are a lot of opinions but the one thing we can agree on is it is very financially challenging for our local workforce to live locally and that results in significant impacts we can’t ignore.


We are constantly reminded of our laundry list of “third rails” (we can’t build our way out of this problem, we can’t build near the freeway, we can’t build near the railroad, we can’t build near historic resources, we can’t create more density, we can’t build on the Gaviota Coast, we can’t impact views, we can’t build higher, etc.).  Well… what can we do?  That is why we hold our conferences.  Change and progress are inevitable for a healthy community and the CHC aims to educate the community about the possibilities that arise from exploring change and seeking solutions.  The City of Santa Barbara’s Average Unit Density program and the State mandated Accessory Dwelling Unit regulations are a start.  There are other housing related innovations to explore: the future of automobile use and parking, the reimagining of State Street and other corridors, employer sponsored and limited equity cooperative opportunities, etc.


At SEPPS we have a deep respect for local community planning principles.  My service on the CHC Board is one of many ways SEPPS actively contributes to community planning and the development and refinement of land use policies.

Let me know if you are interested in the Coastal Housing Coalition’s 2018 conference!

Steve Fort

Senior Planner


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