Cities in northern Santa Barbara County must create balanced land use regulations to provide housing for the influx of employees as new jobs are created, and public involvement is critical in creating communities its residents want.

Those were the basic conclusions of four panelists who discussed “Growing a City” at the North County Economic Summit held Tuesday in the Marian Theatre at Hancock College.

The summit focused on “accommodating growing economies and populations in the North County” and featured panelists Shad Springer, utilities director for the city of Santa Maria; A.J. Cisney, general manager of Rancho Guadalupe; Bob Braitman, founder of the Braitman & Associates consulting firm; and Peter Rupert, executive director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, which presented the annual event.

Steve McCarty, a partner in McCarty Davis Commercial Real Estate, served as moderator for the panel.

McCarty asked how cities should handle their growing populations that are due to people moving in, not because of the birth rate, which is falling, according to Rupert’s report on the county’s economy.

“It’s very difficult to predict what to do,” Rupert said of the actions cities should take. “To be considered vibrant and active involves some level of growth.”

He pointed out the state requires cities to develop a housing plan to accommodate anticipated growth, but there is no requirement to implement the plan.

Braitman said something should be done to require cities to provide adequate housing for the new jobs they generate, citing in particular Santa Barbara, where many businesses generate jobs but the cost of living is high, so workers live in the northern part of the county and near Ventua.

“The freeways are filled with people,” he said, adding it drives up the cost of housing in Ventura and causes parents to be away from their children for more hours each day.

But Springer said government can’t require someone who works in Santa Barbara to live in Santa Barbara.

“People choose where they want to live,” he said, adding even if housing was available, people might choose where to live based on a view or their neighbors.

As for providing diverse housing, Springer said cities can provide some control through zoning.

“What they can’t control is private investment,” he said.

Panelists also addressed H2A housing — the requirement for growers to provide housing that meets certain standards for temporary workers here legally from other countries — and how some residents have a “not in my backyard” attitude toward it.

Cisney said the root problem for agricultural operations is having the opportunity to provide housing and pointed out agriculture has a $2.8 billion impact on the county’s economy.

“Our employees are the heart and the soul of our industry,” Cisney said, noting the agriculture industry didn’t make any conscious decision to stop busing workers to the fields. “It’s state law, it’s federal law … . Agriculture just responded to the lay of the land.”

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County Reporter/Associate Editor

Lee Central Coast Newspapers associate editor Mike Hodgson covers Santa Barbara County government and events and issues in Santa Ynez Valley. Follow him on Twitter @MHodgsonSYVNews.