There are some things about living in California that cannot be controlled. Fire and rain immediately come to mind, as do earthquakes.
Humans do have some control over wildfires — as in not being the dummy who starts one — but Mother Nature also plays a key, often-capricious role in wildfire devastation.
These are all factors that determine where people choose to live, and it’s mostly in cities, which is where the control factor comes into the picture — as in creating public policy that accommodates normal growth in a community, and helps rather than hinders with the creation of affordable housing adequate to handle the jobs that come with growth.
That was a core message from the recent North County Economic Summit, the theme of which was “Growing A City.”
Growing a city involves a lot of moving parts, and our North County communities are generally doing a good job. But if we intend to foster continuing prosperity, we need to do a better job of making sure that there is enough decent housing to meet the need.
A point made at the summit is that the South Coast is failing in that regard. Economic development is a desired goal in South County, but because of movie-star-neighborhood home prices, workers in that region end up living either in Ventura County or north Santa Barbara County, where home prices are high compared to the rest of the nation, but nothing like the million-dollar tract homes in and around Santa Barbara.
North County leaders are actively seeking to attract new business and industry, and for that strategy to work in the long term we also need to make provisions for housing those workers.
Missouri-based A.T. Still University officials plan to open a satellite campus in the new Coast Hills Credit Union corporate headquarters, thanks to efforts by officials at the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and city leaders. The organization trains physicians’ assistants, whose salaries average $100,000-plus a year.
Good, high-paying jobs are just what North County city and economic development officials are seeking. But even with that great average salary for PAs, factoring in inflated home prices could send some of those grads to jobs in other states.
California law mandates cities create housing plans to accommodate anticipated growth, but there is no actual requirement to put such a plan into action. That’s something that could, and should be dealt with by local governments.
The need for housing dovetails with the local agriculture industry’s requirement to provide housing for H-2A guest workers. Together, the two housing issues run parallel courses, and highlight the need for creation of more affordable units. The Santa Maria City Council recently agreed on an H-2A housing policy, but whatever elected leaders decide is certain to meet with mixed reactions from taxpaying residents.
There is a general resistance from homeowners concerning the placement of affordable housing. Again, that is a social issue, a puzzle that our elected leaders need to solve. Comprehensive outreach programs involving developers and homeowners will help.
We wrote the following in a recent editorial on the guest-worker housing issue, and its relationship with the overall affordable housing problem: “There are no easy answers to any of the affordable housing issues, which is one of the reasons we have often suggested a countywide discussion involving all stakeholders to see if some acceptable solution can be found.”
These problems will not solve themselves, especially in a housing market as robust as the area in which we have chosen to live.