by Ethan Stewart
Third District County Supervisor Brooks Firestone (pictured right) and the director of UCSB’s Ocean and Coastal Policy Center, Dr. Mike McGinnis (left), went head-to-head before an audience of nearly 70 in a debate regarding the future of the Gaviota Coast. With the proposed development of Naples and dozens of other plans for luxury homes in the area in various stages of the county approval process, the Saturday night event offered a unique forum for two major players in the drama to clear the air. Hosted and moderated by members of the Reagan Ranch Leadership Academy — a new local young Republican think tank — the debate was sometimes fiery, though it concluded with both parties expressing hopes of working together in the future.
Firestone sought to dispel the perception that the coast is under attack by pointing out that current proposals for the Gaviota Coast represent approximately one-third of the area’s development potential. “There are those who would have you believe there is an alarming issue going on here. … Well, there isn’t,” he said. Relying on the same development calculations, McGinnis drew a very different conclusion, saying, “At the very least, we are going to have 136 mansions along the coast in the next six years, unless the community comes together.” Firestone suggested that conservation or open spaces easements might help temper what he perceives as inevitable development. “People with money buying conservation open space will be what saves this coast,” he said.
The back-and-forth continued as McGinnis accused the county of lacking leadership and a clear vision regarding the future of the environmentally significant region. Alluding to the scarcity of public discourse on the subject since efforts to make the region a national park several years ago were rebuked by landowners and the county, McGinnis asked the supervisor, “Why is there no general plan? As it is, there are no permanent means of protection along this coast.” Firestone countered that the county is “bringing in landowners and hoping they do the right thing. And when it’s time, we [the supervisors] will also do the right thing.” He then quickly added that property rights exist and that “the will to develop will always be a possibility.”