[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the print edition of this article, Gary Earle of the Goleta Visioning Committee, which called for strict development limits, was included as an endorser of Secord. He did not do so. As well, it was reported in the print edition that Janet Wolf received donations from the Bermant brothers, who are interested in condo development. She did not. The Independent apologizes for the error.]
At a recent forum, the two candidates for the 2nd District seat on the Board of Supervisors squared off on the issue of who could “play better in the sandbox.” Actually, Dan Secord said he “knows how to play nicely in the sandbox,” while Janet Wolf claimed to “play well with others.” It was the only topic on which each candidate took an unambiguous stand. Neither the moderator nor anyone from the audience asked follow-up questions on this topic, but despite the electorate’s seeming indifference, the candidates themselves brought up the issue repeatedly at subsequent forums.
2nd District Race
Who can blame them for preferring frank talk about manners to the awkward questions posed by the 2nd District? Half of its voters are in the determinedly suburban Goleta Valley, while the other half are in the touristy micropolis of Santa Barbara, and never have the two segments seemed so mismatched. Voters in the City of Santa Barbara — including the oddly shaped piece of the city assigned to the 2nd District — are concerned with maintaining the integrity of the “urban/rural boundary.” And that translates to: Spare the countryside by concentrating housing in the cities and suburbs. Meanwhile, the only kind of urbanization that Goletans welcome with open arms is urban agriculture, meaning voters there don’t want to see condos moving in next door or replacing the remaining farms in their semi-rural residential community.
Residents in the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta have city councils to represent them, but the vast majority of Goleta Valley residents live in the unincorporated area between the two cities, and the county Board of Supervisors makes these residents’ land-use decisions. More and more, Goleta Valley residents can be heard muttering, “Transfer development to Hope Ranch,” which is also in the 2nd District. But the high property taxes in that wealthy enclave help keep the county coffers full and their residents contribute heavily to political campaigns. That leaves Goleta Valley the most obvious target.
The spectacularly scenic Gaviota Coast and countryside lay just north of Goleta, on the other side of the urban/rural boundary. The City of Santa Barbara has been willing to entertain the notion of taking some development pressure off Gaviota by inviting its would-be developers instead to build inside the city — an emerging strategy called transfer of development rights, or TDR. The City of Santa Barbara doesn’t want to carry the burden alone, however; it wants Goleta to shoulder its share of development, too. Mention to Goletans the possibility of transferring development into their valley, however, and they bristle. No wonder the candidates would rather expound on social skills than outline a development policy.
And since the candidates don’t like to talk about it, no wonder Goletans are unsure as to who should represent their interests. Wolf seems custom-made to represent the Goleta Valley suburbanites. For starters, she is one of them. She has lived in the unincorporated area for 19 years, raising a family and serving on the board of the Goleta Union School District. During her time in office she developed many personal connections and the trust of many Goleta families. When Goleta Valley residents along the campaign trail express concerns that high-density development will degrade their quality of life — traffic, parking, and crime problems — they seem to be preaching to the choir. “I know,” she says. “I live here.”
Yet Secord, who left Goleta decades ago and served for years on the Santa Barbara City Council, received endorsements from one of the valley’s most fiercely protectionist, not-in-my-backyard activists — Joe Guzzardi. [EDITOR’S NOTE: In the print edition of this article, Gary Earle, a force on the Goleta Visioning Committee that called for strict development limits, was included as an endorser of Secord. He did not do so, and The Independent apologizes for the error.] Guzzardi is the former 2nd District candidate who took the unincorporated valley in the primaries. It is true that he came in last overall (with 20 percent of the vote), but it is also true that he spent less than half of what frontrunners Secord and Wolf spent to get 30 percent each. The fact that another of the valley’s hope-to-die slow-growthers, Goleta City Councilmember Jack Hawxhurst, went the other way and endorsed Wolf, simply proves how mystified the electorate is.
Who’s Your Daddy?
It is partly Janet Wolf’s backup that has led Guzzardi and other NIMBYs to bet on Secord. Wolf’s worst quality, from their point of view, is the fact that affordable housing advocates lined up behind her during the primaries, joined at the hip to Goleta development interests. These housing advocates have been relatively quiet during the runoffs, but Wolf has continued to receive donations from local architects and developers. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Contrary to the print edition of this article, Wolf did not receive donations from the Bermants.] She is even endorsed by the Home Builders Association, a contractors’ group that supported Secord in the primary. Evidently, the contractors are just as uncertain as the slow-growthers.
But uncertain doesn’t describe the environmental groups hell-bent on saving the Gaviota Coast, who have strongly endorsed Wolf. Besides lawsuits and land trusts — strategies they have historically relied on to save open space — environmentalists are looking to TDR as the latest and greatest means to achieving that goal. Although they have not targeted Goleta specifically, it is safe to say they are more interested in preserving Gaviota than in preserving suburbia.
All four of the Goleta City Council’s slow-growth activists have given their endorsements to Wolf, but so has the entire Santa Barbara City Council, claiming her as kin on issues of social justice, environmentalism, and regional planning. And this provides enough reason for Goleta Valley residents to worry they will not have exclusive claim to Wolf, even if she is their homegirl.
One has to wonder: How will Wolf be able to please such diverse constituents? During the series of press conferences called to announce these and other high-powered endorsements — Congressmember Lois Capps and all of the public employee unions — Wolf usually looked as much like a sphinx as a standard bearer. It would behoove these endorsers to remember that for all her well-demonstrated cooperative spirit, Janet Wolf has a stubborn streak. Her line of business, as an independent rehabilitation vocational consultant, is sometimes soft-pedaled as a counseling service helping injured and otherwise disabled workers find jobs. In fact, it also involves assessing the earning power of estranged spouses in divorce cases and of suspected malingerers in worker’s compensation claims, and testifying in court as an expert witness. It is hardly a job for a pushover. Quiet, observant, and only moderately outgoing, Wolf is paid to use her own judgment.
She will probably disappoint everybody to some degree. Are housing advocates barking up the wrong tree? Both candidates have now expressed their intention to support workforce housing on the MTD-owned agriculturally zoned land at Turnpike and Calle Real, though at lower densities than affordable housing advocates originally hoped for. Beyond that, if Wolf has any particular passion for housing the poorer working classes, she hasn’t shown it. Every time she talks about workforce housing, she does so with reference to firefighters and other first responders. Also, environmentalists have already begun to notice that Wolf does not show a marked hostility toward exurban development. While others might suffer violent knee-jerk reactions to the very idea of auto malls or even urban villages dotting the countryside — both of which have recently been under consideration to raise revenues for the county treasury — Wolf entertains these ideas without flinching. If the environmentalists were not holding a gun to her head, there’s literally no telling what she might do.
To tell the truth, Wolf probably does play better in the sandbox. While Dan Secord is often likable and charming, he can also come across as peremptory and arrogant. His real advantage over Wolf, and he reiterates it constantly, is the depth and breadth of his experience in government.
The Santa Barbara City Council’s endorsement of Wolf was a slap in the face to Secord, who served on the council for eight years and on the Planning Commission prior to that. He can comfort himself that part of the reason for the council’s endorsement was the fact that its members are all Democrats, while he is a Republican. Secord tended to be in a minority of one on the council, at least in discussions if not so often in final votes. For a long time it was a hallowed council tradition to talk out differences but then vote unanimously. Secord was part of that. However, the slow-growth liberals on the Santa Barbara City Council know they have no real claim to Secord.
His endorsements and contributors include some major Gaviota Coast landowners. Secord has terrified Gaviota preservationists by referring to “200 approvable developments” in the Gaviota Coast. Yet environmentalists find it difficult to counter his conclusion that the main problem with transferring development rights is finding a place to transfer them to. As for the fears of the Goleta Valley, condo developer Barry Berkus is Secord’s regular biking partner and good friend. While this all does not necessarily signal that Secord will represent the developers’ interests, they certainly have his ear.
Even Secord’s worst foes on the Santa Barbara City Council concede that he is a good listener. Despite his ability to come to a consensus with his fellow councilmembers on most matters, it’s one thing to collaborate with a curmudgeonly, fiscally conservative colleague who happens to be in a minority of one. If Secord were to join the board, his former colleagues fear that Gaviota — not to mention the agricultural character of all the rest of the county to the north — would be at the mercy of a 4-1 majority of property-rights advocates who, in their hearts, believe the only truly legitimate way to prevent development is for some private group to buy the property at maximum market value. A 3-2 vote is sufficient to enact land-use decisions most of the time, but a 4-1 majority is the ultimate ticket to ride, allowing the board to enact interim zoning ordinances for as many as two years and to loan money to service areas.
If the environmentalists’ worst nightmare is that Secord will take part in a developers’ orgy, the only thing anybody knows for certain is that he reserves the prerogative to make his own judgments. Secord was blasted by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups for his record on the California Coastal Commission (CCC), on which he served in 2005. The CCC’s most recent annual report gave him a miserable 38 percent approval rating, claiming he tended to side with developers in controversies brought to the commission. Yet Sara Wan, the commissioner who got the Sierra Club’s highest approval rating at 93 percent, confirmed that she found Secord to be “honest, ethical, and thoughtful.” In addition, Secord has the endorsement of Bendy White, a Santa Barbara planning commissioner known for his determination to squeeze as many social and environmental concessions as possible from would-be developers.
The simplest way to distinguish the two candidates is by the planning processes they have outlined, which are the closest either of them have come to making campaign promises. Secord has proposed setting up a planning commission body for the unincorporated Goleta Valley, with legal powers to modify, accept, or reject proposed developments in the valley — although its decisions could be appealed to the county Board of Supervisors. Wolf, by contrast, proposes to create a planning commission body for the entire South Coast, which would address development for the entire region. For Goleta Valley itself, she would set up an advisory committee.
How is it possible to protect Goleta and the Gaviota Coast? As of yet, there are no clear answers. So far, current 2nd District Supervisor Susan Rose and the rest of the board have funneled most new housing development to the northern part of the county. This cannot go on indefinitely, however. The supervisors are now talking about lobbying Sacramento to rescind the housing mandates that have so bothered Goleta, but it’s a long shot. Perhaps the North County will also invite some Gaviota developers to build luxury homes further north and east instead of on the Gaviota Coast — though of course, that raises the specter of “urban villages” dotting the agricultural landscape, which is another developers-versus-preservationists fight looming on the horizon. All these areas are vulnerable to development, and the questions really are how much, what kind, and where. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets. Whoever gets elected to the 2nd District seat will have some tricky problems to solve, and the rest of us will have to live with his or her solutions.
For the candidates’ own responses to specific questions about Gaviota Coast development, Read the Press Release from the Naples Coalition.