Will Lompoc have enough housing to meet state mandates?

An update of the 2030 General Plan Housing Element is required every eight years by the state of California; it’s the state’s way of making sure cities are following its mandates. It costs a lot of general fund money to once again prove that proposed projects, some that were approved more than 15 years ago, meet the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) goals.

In the update, the city of Lompoc needs to demonstrate that they have the space to accommodate future housing needs as established by the allocation of RHNA housing units by the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG).

Do they? It depends on who you ask. When the city recently presented a request to annex farmland on the western edge of the city known as the “Bailey Avenue corridor,” they tried to make the argument that the city needs more medium- to low-density housing. Of course, this argument conflicts with a recent state mandate to increase density (more units packed tightly) in former single-family zones.

If you consider the number of housing units that are currently constructed, there is still a need; there aren’t enough units currently available to meet the city’s future growth needs as assessed by SBCAG.

But there are other factors to consider.

At best the RHNA numbers are just a guess; no one knows with certainty how our city, or any city for that matter, will grow. And consider this, if this state weren’t a welfare mecca or “sanctuary” for undocumented (illegal) aliens, there would be less need for housing. Just something to think about.

Another thing to consider is why does Lompoc need more workforce housing when there aren’t enough employees in local industries, either in the city or the surrounding area, to require year-round housing? With several housing units including motels and condos being used for seasonal farmworker housing during the growing and harvesting season, it causes a loss of workforce and/or “unhoused people” housing space.

Another reason is that the South Coast has been immune from providing sufficient affordable units to house the workers needed in their area for decades. That has now changed, and there is an uproar as planners try and allocate the new RHNA numbers to communities in the Santa Barbara area. Only Montecito seems to be left out of the equation; the rich and famous need their space, and their campaign contributions seem to pay big dividends when it comes to planning land use.

The biggest employers in Lompoc are local government (city, county, and school district), the federal prison, and Vandenberg Space Force Base. Vandenberg employment ebbs and flows based on the nation’s defense budget and has proven to be an unreliable indicator for housing planning purposes. If you listen to any of the annual briefings at the base, there is always a “big project” on the horizon, but they often fizzle, are canceled, or are relocated to another congressional district during budget talks.

There is another factor that the Housing Element update is obligated to consider. In January 2021 Assembly Bill 686, the Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing Act (AFFH), expanded upon the fair housing requirements and protections outlined in the Federal Fair Employment and Housing Act.

AFFH requires taking meaningful actions to avoid “restricting access to opportunity based on protected characteristics. In summary, AFFH seeks to combat housing discrimination, eliminate racial bias, undo historic patterns of segregation, lift barriers that restrict access, foster inclusive communities, and achieve racial equity, fair housing choice, and opportunity.”

I came to Lompoc in 1975, and as far as I know, this community is not and hasn’t been segregated in any way. All ethnic groups live, work, and recreate side by side, and except for a few local hoodlums trying to “establish their turf,” everyone gets along just fine without government intervention.

But back to the basic question: Does the city of Lompoc have the space to accommodate future housing needs? The staff told the Planning Commission on April 11 that, “It should be noted that including sites does not require their development or redevelopment of housing but simply demonstrates that the city has adequate land and zoning to accommodate its housing needs.”

And, on page 3 of the staff report, they demonstrate that 2,396 units are needed, but when you consider the RHNA numbers plus a locally established 20 percent buffer, the city has a 38-unit surplus using approved projects that haven’t been built for well over a decade.

Some feel this update is all “smoke and mirrors,” and after seeing several of these updates as a former planning commissioner, I can’t disagree; it just looks like an expensive paper exercise designed to satisfy bureaucrats in Sacramento.

Recently the Sun reported that the city manager said, “Currently, Lompoc only develops about 11 houses a year, and it only had eight infill projects go through last year; at this pace, it would take the city 200 years to meet its Housing Element requirements.”

In the meantime, any chance of finding “affordable housing” in any economic category is just a dream, as politicians keep piling on new requirements and restrict where homes can be built.

Ron Fink writes to the Sun from Lompoc.
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