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Confessions of an accidental planner

by Nick Welsh

I’ve always hated interviewing Bill Wallace. His thoughts come rushing out in short, quick bursts. His fat-to-verbiage ratio is notoriously low, and even in short exchanges, Wallace is apt to make countless shorthand references to bureaucratic pressure points that I should understand the relevance of, but too frequently do not. Reporters equipped with only a pen and note pad have come to regard Wallace as nothing less than an occupational menace, and for an exchange of any length, we’ve learned that a tape recorder is absolutely essential.

In his five terms on the Board of Supervisors, Wallace did not just represent the environmental movement; he personified it. As a minority vote throughout most of his tenure, Wallace proved shrewd in pushing the extremes to expand the political center. And he conspired successfully to have the county buy up as much land in Goleta as possible to protect it from development. He sought to put a straitjacket on the urban sprawl that’s engulfed the Goleta Valley over the past 30 years. Twenty years ago, Wallace, known in some circles as “Doctor No,” helped pass the now famous — or infamous — Goleta water moratorium. More recently, he struggled to impose rational planning on Goleta’s rate of growth.

He [Wallace] sought to put a straitjacket on the urban sprawl that engulfed the Goleta valley over the past 30 years.

Wallace moved to Goleta in 1965, and in 1971 was drafted by Isla Vista landlords to run for the Isla Vista Community Council as a moderate. After a three-year stint on the Goleta Water Board, he ran for the county Board of Supervisors in 1976 and won. Wallace proved to be the right man in the right place at the right time, and for the next 16 years, he was blessed with a string of weak opponents.

All that changed when the 3rd District boundary lines were redrawn in 1990 to encompass much of the Santa Ynez Valley. In 1992, for the first time ever, Wallace failed to win the June primary outright, and in the runoff, he managed to beat rancher Willy Chamberlin by a measly 12 votes in the most bitterly contested election in county history.

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