I recently testified before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors about the recent protests against the San Marcos Preserve development project.
As a way of background, this particular property was originally zoned, many decades ago, for full-scale development. However, permission to develop the site was approved only when the owner agreed to donate 90% of the property as an open space preserve.
Activists are now claiming that the project is still not protective enough of the environment, according to their own insatiable greed — read that covetousness.
Truly this project was originally scrutinized to the point of the absurd! It was forced to gauge the impact to lichen from moving boulders around on the property, along with many other such machinations.
All this is nothing new. Perhaps the worst example ever? Some farming families spent 12 years trying to subdivide their 4,000-acre ranch into 13 parcels. All the parcels would have remained in agriculture, and the lots were intended to remain in the families. The supervisors denied the project, claiming it would “urbanize” agricultural land.
Currently the planning commission is considering a housing project on a golf course in the Santa Maria Valley. Originally, some 40 years ago, more than 800 homes were proposed for the site. Now it has been whittled down to 129 units with 74% open space.
All local governments need to have a discussion on the tendency to deny projects outright or radically down-zone properties to maintain open space in a county that is more than 90% open space as it is!
This discussion is imperative due to the fact that our state government has mandated that some 24,000 housing units must be planned to be built in Santa Barbara County, including more than 10,000 in South County. Our elected representatives in state government have mandated this insane number of units of housing despite the fact that we don’t have the water to serve our existing community.
Funny thing is, in spite of all the laws requiring an analysis of the impacts of construction projects, the state dumps this mandate on us without bothering to analyze any of the negative impacts of the same!
Whereas, everybody I know shares a disdain for urban concrete jungles, the fact of the matter is every time the Santa Barbara community claims another preserve, it takes land off the table for this future development mandated by the state.
This begs the proverbial question of “If not here, then where will we build these units?” Will we be forced to eventually take agricultural land out of production, or must we start to build obscenely high multi-story units that violate the sacrosanct premise in Santa Barbara to never block the views of either the hills or the ocean?
The owners of the San Marcos development, who are not members of COLAB, already gave up 90% of their land. Why isn’t that enough?
And why would people part with their cash to come up with $20 million to buy the development rights to the property, when there are plenty of better uses for this money?
Finally, the county loves to require mitigation from developers, but how about requiring mitigation from preservationists? Namely, every time the community takes units away from a project by downsizing the same, they need to name the time and place those lost units will be replaced by a higher-density project elsewhere in the immediate vicinity (rather than dumping the same in the Santa Maria Valley or Lompoc!) to make up for the lost opportunity costs.
The community needs leaders to step up on this issue with an honest and frank discussion, rather than pretending to be heroes whose real accomplishment is merely adding to the woes of the working class who can’t afford to live here and the subsequent jobs/housing imbalance.
Andy Caldwell is the executive director of COLAB and host of “The Andy Caldwell Radio Show,” weekdays from 3-5 p.m., on News-Press Radio AM 1290.