Just about every community in America eventually comes to a fork in the road.
The path that goes one way represents significant change, maybe a fundamental shift in the community’s profile or nature. The other path also leads to change, but like its neighbor, the ultimate destination is at first an unknown.
Lots of folks don’t much care for that sort of mystery. They prefer the known to the unknown. They like the way things are and they don’t fancy change — especially when the new path leads to places they’ve never really been or know much about.
That’s sort of a metaphor for life in general. Most of us make plans, try to follow our own path, and feel confident in our ability to stay on course.
But stuff happens. Or as John Lennon said, life is what happens when you’re making plans.
Santa Maria confronted that fork in the road quite a few years ago, and the policy decisions made then are creating a different kind of community than many of us grew up in. For example, the city’s population soared nearly 30 percent between the 2000 and 2010 census counts, and it is safe to think similar growth will be tallied when the 2020 census count is taken.
We are no longer that small, North County community that smells of broccoli when the wind is just right. We are now the biggest city in Santa Barbara County, population-wise, and have been for several years.
With an expanding population comes higher demand for goods and services. People moving in need places to shop and live, and because local home prices are among the lowest on the Central Coast, much of the housing demand is for single-family homes.
City officials reported last week that to meet such demand, the city is in the process of reviewing proposals for nearly 300 single-family homes, and more than 880 requests for multi-family units.
That’s a considerable amount of housing in the permitting pipeline, but it’s likely not enough to satisfy demand. High demand and limited availability drive prices high. It’s a spiral with which most vibrant communities must contend.
Such growth generates jobs, such as the new retail stores racing to open in the Enos Ranch development are demonstrating.
But there are all kinds of problems that come with rapid growth. For example, more commerce creates more job openings, which attract young working people to our area. Those newcomers settle into their jobs, get married and settle down, have children and those kids put new pressures on local school districts.
A higher population also equates to a potential increase in crime.
If this is all adding up to you thinking we see growth as a bad thing, you are wrong. Growth is a sure positive — if it is handled correctly. And we believe this city and its elected leaders have all the right stuff to make such growth a net positive for the residents of Santa Maria.
For evidence, we turn to the decisions city leaders made in recent years dealing with gang crime. Our Police Department has done a solid job of cracking down, making it clear to criminals and wanna-be criminals that the city has a zero-tolerance approach to gangs and gang crime.
Growth-related problems don’t simply magically disappear. They must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, which is what city leaders are doing.
Maybe small-town Santa Maria is no more, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.