A Letter from CSP President, Gary Earle


Our state is currently experiencing a population explosion, which affects nearly every aspect of our lives – California’s population is increasing by 500,000 people each year.  With this rate of increase, there will come a time in the foreseeable future when we will be rubbing elbows with 50,000,000 other state residents.  The California legislature has decided that the state will accept this rapid growth.  And, through its state housing mandate, the legislature has ordered California counties and cities to build new homes to accommodate this population explosion. 


The state housing mandate works in 5 year increments and for the period of 2003 to 2008 the state has told the County of Santa Barbara that it must prepare to build 17,500 additional homes.  Then in 2008 they will assign us another 5 year allotment and so on and so on.  The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments has divided up the required 17,500 homes and assigned them to the various areas of the county.  The south coast was given 6,000 units to be spread out approximately equally between the cities of Santa Barbara, Carpinteria and Goleta and the unincorporated areas of the South County.  In March of 2004, the County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to accept the state’s demands.  Consequently, the Board of Supervisors and the Department of Planning and Development have embarked upon a course of action to rezone additional acreage across the county on which to build substantially all of this housing. 


Pushing such rapid growth and development in our county, under the guise of a “housing crisis”, is a juggernaut of strange bedfellows consisting of speculators, developers, housing advocates, housing bureaucrats, non-local financial interests and politicians.  Their message is clear.  They argue they can solve the “housing problem” by increasing density and building our way out of it.  They neglect to recognize the fact that in following this strategy the counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego are quickly turning their urban and rural areas into unlivable communities.


What has been appalling to the residents of Santa Barbara County’s communities, who will have to live with the consequences of this unbridled growth, is that the County’s process regarding public participation is flawed and inadequate.  True public input has not been given on many of the sites being considered for high-density rezoning for the construction of new homes.  And, the County Counsel has even admitted that the Board of Supervisors violated the Brown Act last November in their haste to pass revisions that would expand the County’s subsidized housing program and increase potential zoning density on many parcels.


Citizens also share a deep concern about the lack of proper planning prior to any rezoning of parcels.  Many areas in North and South County and the Santa Ynez Valley, targeted for substantial residential development and growth have community plans that are woefully out-of-date or are non-existent.  It is a community plan that expresses the vision of area residents, and determines the carrying capacity of a given area.  The community plan sets limits to the amount of people and homes that can be sustained within specified geographical boundaries. 


We must insist that sensible, comprehensive community plans be in place before county elected officials vote to rezone properties for higher density residential development.  Failure to do so will encourage haphazard construction that will ruin the character of existing neighborhoods. 


We risk the loss of the character, agriculture, open space and balanced community needs and resources if our County succumbs to the growth juggernaut.  We must conduct environmental studies that carefully and accurately determine the cumulative impacts of development across a given region.  The current policy of the county planning department is to piecemeal environmental studies by looking only at the impact of a single development to a specific local area. 


It is critically important to the Coalition for Sensible Planning, and to our common goal of protection of both private property rights and environmental protection, that this heritage not be abandoned when up- or down- zoning for residential purposes is done on urban, suburban, or rural lands.


For South Coast residents, we live on a narrow coastal plain that is constricted on both ends; to the west by the Gaviota Pass and to the east by The Rincon.  It is important to realize that in this confined region what is developed in one community affects all communities.  There are recognizable critical transportation, water, waste disposal and public safety infrastructure issues, which must not and cannot be minimized or ignored.


We must recognize the dangers to public heath and safety caused by rapid over- development in any area and guard against it.  We have already seen the chaos caused by the closing of Hwy. 101 after the La Conchita mudslide and during the numerous fires that have occurred in the foothills.  In addition to mudslides and fires, we are also susceptible to earthquakes.  What would be the consequences of over-development and poor planning if we all tried to leave here at once in the event of a major natural disaster? 


We need to think of our area as a large meeting room where we are all seated.  In this room, posted in the back is a sign that states the maximum occupancy of the room, thus providing comfort and safety for everyone.  This is done to ensure adequate air quality, personal space, and proper and safe ingress and egress.  In the same way, to maintain our quality of life and to guarantee a sustainable future for Santa Barbara County we must determine the maximum sustainable build-out for our region.  We must be cognizant that what happens on one side of the room will affect the other. 


We must also acknowledge our responsibility to provide housing for the most needy in our community and we must accommodate some future development within our sustainable limitations.  However, we must also assert that the rights of those who are already here must be at least equal to if not greater than the rights of those who are yet to come.


I challenge all county citizens to become active in the debate over the future of Santa Barbara County.  Let our local elected officials know that you will tolerate nothing less than a fair, open, orderly and legal public process in the debate over these issues.  Demand that we have updated community plans and comprehensive environmental reviews and a current housing element, with policies which make sense, are fair, and respect the rights of all parties, including existing home owners. 


Insist that, regardless of the dictates of the state mandate, we take the proper amount of time to fully assess the impact of this unprecedented amount of housing development on our infrastructure, on our quality of life, and on the health and safety of the citizens of this county.  Contact your state representatives and let them know that you oppose current proposals that will take control over local planning away from local communities and give it to the state.  Remember: the best planning is that which sets sensible limits to growth and the best planning is local planning.


It is imperative that the vision for the future of Santa Barbara County be framed by the majority of the citizens who live here. 


To leave our County’s future up to special interests will condemn Suburban and Rural Santa Barbara to become Urban Los Angeles.


Gary Earle


Coalition for Sensible Planning