I was left with only one option in the face of untenable state-mandated changes to Lompoc’s housing element

What does a person who is in a decision-making role do when having to “approve” something that their principles won’t allow them to vote “yes” on? Well, I can only speak for myself on this issue.

I was part of the Lompoc City Planning Commission for several years. After a hiatus I was reappointed, and one of the first orders of business was to review the 2030 General Plan Housing Element Update. All jurisdictions in the state must complete updates every eight years.

In the past I have participated in other updates; however, this time it was very different. After spending several hours carefully reviewing the materials the staff sent prior to a public hearing, the Planning Commission was informed at the start of the hearing that the document wasn’t complete. 

In all my years of previous service, I can’t recall any time this ever happened. The public in attendance was very vocal, and the commissioners weren’t happy either. 

A general plan and all the elements (chapters) included in it are supposed to be the result of input received from the community during workshops and public hearings. When the previous housing element was approved eight years ago, that’s exactly what happened—it took almost two years before the general plan was finally adopted by the City Council.

During past updates, the focus seemed to be changes to the Regional Housing Needs Allocation analysis. These are determined by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, according to its website, by analyzing the “existing jobs-housing imbalance.” 

This was the result: “Jurisdictions such as Guadalupe and Lompoc, which already contain a disproportionate share of very-low and low-income housing, are provided higher proportions of moderate and above-moderate housing allocations, for example.” It should also be noted that scores of carloads and more than a dozen busloads of workers travel south from Lompoc each day to serve Santa Barbara.

But for this update, instead of being a plan developed by the community, this housing element update is one directed from Sacramento by virtue of several Assembly and Senate bills signed by the governor. Basically, it eliminates local control of the planning process.

I had many concerns that cannot be resolved by either the Planning Commission or City Council because of this top-down planning approach. Here are some examples:

There is an analysis of feasible sites for low-income housing development contained in the update. “Feasible” is a very subjective term; when liberally applied, it could mean that any parcel in the city is feasible for development. 

However, is it practical? No, because substantial and expensive changes to the underground utilities, removal of existing structures, or substantial environmental remediation could be required to build housing.

More than 80 sites were identified; of the nonvacant sites, the unit distribution of existing on-site uses was parking lots: approximately 190 units; commercial and office: approximately 360 units; single-family residential: approximately 250 units; and schools: approximately 50 units.

.Another requirement was that “the city shall amend its zoning ordinance to revise the definition of ‘family’ by eliminating distinctions and numeric restrictions in related and unrelated individuals.”

The long-accepted definition of a family is: “a group of one or more parents and their children living together as a unit; and all the descendants of a common ancestor.” I strongly disagree with redefining a family. 

During the public comment period of the hearing, the Planning Commission was asked, “Is this what you want your community to look like?” After thinking it over and studying the changes, my answer was “no.” Implementing these changes could lead to Lompoc becoming an increased magnet for low-income housing. 

There are 19 low-income, public housing projects in Lompoc, and according to a 2018 letter from Lompoc to the California Tax Allocation Committee, 29 percent of all multi-family units were dedicated to low-income tenants; this ratio may have increased over the last five years. This compares to a high of 6 percent in the rest of the county.

We were told that we had no latitude in this process; the state was directing these changes and that was that!

My principles told me to vote “no” on recommending adoption of the changes by the City Council, but that would mean I’d have to violate several state laws. I am diametrically opposed to many of the changes, so once again my principles told me I can’t vote “yes.” 

Therefore, I was left with one choice—to abstain, which would be a substantial waste of my time and the time of the commission and the public in attendance. So, there was only one thing left to do: I resigned my position.

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc. Send a letter for publication to [email protected].

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