The Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department is tasked with smoothing the way for thousands of new homes.
Especially in unincorporated towns, which have little say in their own affairs, the process could be improved.
A single green-lighted development in a small town like Los Alamos could increase its population by 10% or more. That has a significant impact on traffic, safety, crime, scarce water resources, flood control, demands on limited landline and internet infrastructure, noise and air pollution.
Current P&D procedures do not make it easy for existing residents to be involved until irreversible decisions have already been made. A plan to build 59 homes here, that could grow to as many as twice that number, stands as an example. Another plan, now in the “pre-application” process, would add 69 more homes, with a potential total of 138 if ADUs are counted.
Only neighbors within 300-feet of the proposed project are normally sent advance notification. Certainly projects of this magnitude in a small town could impact most residents.
Further, P&D standard noticing for the proposed project is done in dense, stilted language. Why not begin with a summary paragraph in plain English, with the basic facts and their import?
Other adjustments to protocol would be to display the notice in our post office for all to see, and to do so at least several weeks before public P&D decision-making meetings.
Instituting these changes, which would not add a single dollar to the county budget, requires action by the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors. These process adjustments in transparency, candor, timeliness and democracy, would lead to smarter, better-informed development … and more positive attitudes toward county government.