But now this bastion of "slow growth" is learning that it comes with some steep economic, social and even environmental costs:
• Soaring housing prices. With the supply so limited, prices last year rose faster than in any other region in the state. The median price of a single-family house is now $1.1 million, out of reach for all but the well-to-do.
• Traffic congestion, energy consumption and air pollution. An estimated 30,000 commuters, forced by housing prices to live far from where they work, clog U.S. Highway 101 and choke side streets during peak drive times.
• An exodus of big employers. Half a dozen Fortune 500 companies have left for less costly locales. Almost every business and government agency that remains struggles with recruiting and retaining workers who cannot afford to live nearby.
• Altered communities. Poor families have been forced to double- and triple-up in rental housing. Unable to buy homes, many middle-class families with children have moved away. UC Santa Barbara economist Bill Watkins warns that parts of the south coast are at risk of becoming a "geriatric ghetto."
• Spillover growth. Seventy-five miles away, in northern Santa Barbara County, houses are engulfing farmland. Sprawling Santa Maria is soon expected to pass Santa Barbara as the county's most populous city. But prices are on the rise there, too, largely because of demand from Santa Barbara-area workers.
Shock and dismay...I'm looking at you, Santa Fe.