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Montecitans Are Analyzing Cityhood


MONTECITO CITYHOOD: Montecitans are choosing up sides to debate whether this rich, 10,000-resident enclave should become a city.

Opponents charge that a small faction is operating in secrecy, below the radar, to push incorporation. But Michael Jaffe, who heads the 18-month-old Voices of Montecito group, says he just wants “to look objectively to see if [cityhood] would be a good choice.” He said, “Our minds are not made up.”

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Voices is not leading the effort, Jaffe told me, although some of its members are active in “trying to explore if cityhood is viable.”

So far, Jaffe said, his group has hired a consultant, Tony Manzanetti, former city attorney of Elk Grove, and completed a preliminary fiscal analysis “that came back pretty positive, that cityhood was a viable option.”

The next step, he said, would be for the Montecito Association, the long-time community group, to hold a series of “non-biased, educational forums. If the result is against [cityhood], we will drop the issue.”

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Opponents are already lining up against incorporation and charging that Jaffe’s group is by no means objective about cityhood and is operating in secrecy. “I think they are aggressively searching for ways to get cityhood,” charged 34-year resident Harry Hovey. “Absolutely they are pushing for cityhood.”

In view of the accusations that it was a veiled effort and that residents are complaining about a lack of information about what was happening, I asked Jaffe why his group hadn’t made a public announcement of its aims and its progress.

The claim that we’ve been secret is fatuous,” replied Jaffe. “Everyone in town knows who is doing this,” he said, referring to his statements in the weekly Montecito Journal. Others active in the effort are Mary Belle Snow, Lee Luria, and Parker Montgomery, he said.

We are not a secret group doing under-handed things,” Luria told me. “We are just looking at it. We are a handful of people, about 12 people, who are active.”

Meanwhile, all eyes are on Coast Village Road, a stretch of shops, restaurants, and two hotels less than a mile long. Its sales taxes, bed taxes, and property taxes could be a boon to a new City of Montecito if service costs exceed revenue. The problem: It’s part of the City of Santa Barbara.

Jaffe and County Local Agency Formation Commission executive officer Bob Braitman planned to meet this week with Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum to talk about Coast Village Road.

Jaffe said he has no illusions about Santa Barbara giving up Coast Village Road to a new city, but by Montecito incorporating it, it would have greater “standing” to deal with Santa Barbara regarding Coast Village Road development.

Hovey and other critics of cityhood question whether there is any urgent need for it and point out such pitfalls as whether it would bring state requirements for inclusionary affordable housing and whether a small municipality could handle major liability lawsuits. Former Montecito Association president Bob Collector is also opposing the incorporation move. Montecito already has a Planning Commission and Architectural Board of Review, Hovey pointed out. Incorporation must also be revenue-neutral, meaning that the county can’t lose money on the deal. Jaffe said it won’t cost the county a penny.

Considering Montecito land prices, inclusionary housing requirements would mean high-rises, Hovey said. The cost of running a city would also bring pressure to rezone land for commercial uses, meaning an end to Montecito’s semi-rural ambiance, he said.

To Jaffe, however, the key issue is local control. At present, Montecito is under county jurisdiction, with decisions made by a five-member Board of Supervisors, none of whom live in Montecito, he said. “Would we rather be governed by county government or by our own neighbors?”

So far, no application has been filed for cityhood, Braitman said. The application, including boundaries of a proposed city and other vital information, would have to include results of a petition drive where 25 percent or more of registered voters in the boundaries favored incorporation.

Petitions are not currently being circulated, Jaffe said. The Montecito Fire Protection District, with nearly 80 percent as much assessed valuation as the entire city of Santa Barbara, would be a likely area for the proposed city, Braitman said.

The Local Agency Formation Commission staff would then study the application. A fiscal analysis to see if cityhood would be economically feasible would have to be financed by Montecitans, costing around $250,000 by Jaffe’s estimate, up to $400,000 by others. Braitman would then write a staff report and make a recommendation.

Public hearings would follow. If the Local Agency Formation Commission then rejects cityhood, that’s the end of the line. If it says okay, an election would be held. If a majority of registered voters there say yes, Montecito would become a city.

This would be the third attempt in recent years. Cityhood was narrowly defeated at the polls in the early 1990s. It was again studied a decade later but dropped when it was concluded that it was not a good idea, Jaffe said.

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