According to the most recently available information from the United States Census, over 90% of the United States is “open space.” If every person in the United States stood together, shoulder to shoulder, all 328 million of us would fit in a space smaller than the state of Rhode Island. In other words, we’d need less than 775,000 acres.
The landmass of the U.S. totals 2.4 billion acres.
Earth’s total population is roughly 7.5 billion. And yet, if every person on the planet were to occupy one square yard of space, we would all fit on a landmass about one-fifth the size of Maine.
I mention all of this because at a public hearing in Northern Santa Barbara County last week, a hearing to consider the environmental “impacts” of a proposed senior center, a recurring talking point in opposition to the project was the loss of valuable open space. I wish I had a dime for how many times I have heard this specific objection parroted by one person after another at a public hearing. And it matters not what the proposed project is. Let’s put this issue of disappearing open space into perspective.
In Santa Barbara County, the government owns 45% of the land, the overwhelming majority of which is undeveloped. Countywide, from Carpinteria to Guadalupe, the developed areas of the county do not exceed 10%.
The proposed senior center, under review by county planners, will be located on 5 acres along an avenue and adjacent to a highway. That is 5 acres out of the 1,750,400 acres that make up Santa Barbara County. But according to the opponents of the project, if approved by the county, this will result in the loss of valuable open space. In California, and here in Santa Barbara County especially, people will oppose anything, and I mean anything.
In my 25 years of following land-use issues, both in and out of local political office, I’ve seen people show up to oppose oil and gas projects, energy stability and reliability projects, affordable housing subdivisions, hotel developments, cell towers, elementary schools, child daycare facilities, and even churches.
Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) has become BANANA: Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone.
An 11,000-square-foot senior center in Old Town Orcutt, when approved, will become a safe place for our seniors for fellowship, to learn new skills, break bread together, speak to each other’s lives, offer a sympathetic ear, and talk each other up, as life sometimes requires.
Our seniors are people who have come to that place in life after many years of working, raising a family and volunteering in their community. A life spent helping others, listening to others, supporting others and sacrificing for others.
They wake up one day, a day that came faster than they expected, and what seems like suddenly, their kids are raised, living on their own, and now it is they who are working, raising a family and volunteering in their community. And often, that means their kids, who were once the center of their universe, are busy. Not too busy to care about them, but usually— indeed, often — too busy to be there with them even if it’s just to brighten their day.
And that is why it is such a beautiful thing, a real blessing, for these seniors to have a fun place to go, a cool place to be, a local place to be seen, and a close and accessible place to see others. So maybe we can sacrifice a few acres, endure a few extra cars on the road, a few distractions, and some supposed negative “impacts” to show our seniors that we value them, we are here for them, and we are a better society because of them.
Maybe, hopefully, justifiably, we should do that because it is the least we can do.
Joe Armendariz is the executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.