(Ms Seefeld is a lawyer and Ortega Ridge area resident. This is the second in a series of columns written by Seefeld on property rights.)

OUR GOVERNMENT…. PLUS SOME…. AT WORK

Somewhere along the line, someone came up with the idea of creating the “Joint Cities and County Affordable Housing Task Group.” Despite scouring various governmental websites for a reference of this group, my search came up empty. The genesis and purpose of this group is not easily determined.

The group is purportedly composed of two City Council members for each city in Santa Barbara county and two members of the County Board of Supervisors. Despite the importance of this issue and public interest in the subject, there is no public notice of the meetings as far as can be ascertained.

On June 22, the subject of fraud in the County’s Affordable Housing program was on the agenda at Carpinteria City Council member Greg Gandrud’s request. Mr. Gandrud asked me to attend because of my investigation of fraud in the County’s affordable housing program over the last three and a half years.

The meeting was a real eye-opener and in some respects down right scary. At the conference table in the Board of Supervisors conference room were members of the various city councils. First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal was present for a part of the meeting but left before the subject of fraud in the County’s affordable housing program came up. Second District Supervisor Susan Rose, the other supervisor member of the “Task Group,” was absent.

Unfortunately, no County Supervisor was present for the discussion of fraud in the County’s program or for the City of Santa Barbara’s excellent presentation on how it avoids such problems in the its affordable housing program. Not surprisingly, the City avoids problems through a rigorous qualification process, strict enforcement and monitoring, including swift legal prosecutions, with violating owners losing their units and having to reimburse ill-gotten gains.

As an aside, Supervisor Carbajal had Janet Wolfe, candidate for Second District Supervisor, seated to his left at the table of government representatives. He remarked that she couldn’t wait to get started on the job. Funny, I thought the election to determine the next Second District Supervisor was set for November. Do we just skip elections now and anoint successors? Dr. Dan Secord, also a candidate for Second District Supervisor, was not similarly introduced or invited.

Also at the table was Mickey Flacks, charter member of SDS and ubiquitous advocate of a socialist – more recently referred to as “progressive” – agenda. She is a “housing commissioner” involved with County housing programs unrelated to the “for sale” affordable housing program currently being audited for fraud. Seated to her left was Bud Laurent, a paid consultant for the Coastal Housing Coalition, a group that is, oddly, funded partly by the County and by certain developers, but that also lobbies the County to seek approval for thousands more densely packed affordable housing units to be built in the County; these facts aren’t disclosed when Mr. Laurent appears as an advocate for these programs.

One of the developers who support the group is banker Michael Towbes. While he is a fine gentleman and generous supporter of this community, Towbes is at heart a businessman who is in the business of building things and he is very adept at winning approvals to do so, including through groups like the Coastal Housing Coalition.

The other few non-city council or Board of Supervisor members of the public sat in chairs along the side of the room.

Ms Flacks seemed to dominate the agenda. She started with a video lamenting the scarcity and cost of housing in the Santa Barbara area and then read a lengthy housing policy statement developed by the “South Coast Livable Communities Project,” which she portrayed as being a “cogent statement which reflects all our views.” She later passed around a more benign summary of some of what she read. The statement she read included goals that are antithetical to free market principles and would impose onerous limits on private property ownership.

Most concerning was the underlying theme of her statement: the use of housing policies to accomplish massive social engineering. Projects to be approved must include a full range of “housing opportunities” in every neighborhood, housing densities must increase dramatically, projects must accomplish “ethnic and economic diversity” in neighborhoods, and there will be no gated communities. Implicit in this utopian plan is that government will play an even bigger role in determining how you live and how you may use your own property.

Apparently the creators of this vision for our future are unfamiliar with basic economic realities that dictate that a finite physical resource will become very dear as demand increases. The remaining land for building in Santa Barbara county is scarce and thus very expensive. Not everyone who wants to live here can. That fact does not mean we have to pave over our agricultural lands and open space with houses at 20-plus units an acre to accommodate over-population of a delicate sliver of coastline between the mountains and the sea.

There was no reference in this policy statement of the effects of over-population of our state and community brought on by massive illegal immigration. There was no discussion of shifting some of the housing burden to those who employ many of these illegal aliens for their own economic benefit such as the development, construction and hospitality industries. There was no discussion of alternatives to building large numbers of densely packed “affordable” housing units on what little available land is left.

One city council person suggested they conduct a tour of affordable housing projects to convince people not to be afraid of higher density. I suggested they also contact homeowners associations to find out what the real world experience of neighborhoods has been with on-site affordable housing units before they promote building more. If they do they are in for a shock.

What was clear to me was that housing policy for our community is being germinated in this group. Why aren’t people with alternative ideas invited to these meetings to address housing needs? Why aren’t these meetings more widely publicized? Why are some people allowed at the “government table” while others who may not be in favor of the “more is better” approach are not included?

If you care about this community, about your neighborhood and about private property rights, attend these meetings and speak up. You can get on the notification list by contacting Linda Dunn, Housing and Redevelopment, City of Santa Barbara, at 564-5461.