Just six months ago Santa Barbara County supervisors debated with some bitterness about how best to spend this year’s offshore oil-flavored kick-down from the federal government. Unfortunately, since the 2009 and 2010 installments of the feds’ Coastal Impact Assistance Program (CIAP) appears to be markedly slimmer than anticipated, the supes’ hard-earned compromise was thrown out the window this week. With the amount of cash earmarked specifically for Santa Barbara now $1.1 million lighter (over the course of the four-year program), the supes had to reprioritize on Tuesday morning, September 2, ultimately sacrificing two long-simmering beach access projects, reducing the allotment for Goleta Beach Park improvements, and reaffirming the board’s intention to make Gaviota-aimed spending a “second-tier” priority. Simply put, as 1st District Supervisor and Board Chair Salud Carbajal summed it up, “This is not good news.”
Signed into reality in late 2005 by President Bush, the CIAP looks to mitigate the environmental impact on the six states that have federal oil leases off their shores by sharing a portion of the revenue generated by these leases with the affected communities. Santa Barbara County was in line to receive about $3.5 million over the four years of the program.
However, after a sizeable oil and gas lease off of Alaska sold earlier this year, the equation of which state gets how much tilted significantly in Alaska’s direction, leaving California, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, and Texas with much smaller slices of the pie. Seizing the opportunity to connect the dots between the supervisors’ controversial offshore hearing last week, at which they decided to ask the governor to lift the current moratorium on offshore leases, and this week’s decision, 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone smugly pointed out, “If the governor reads the majority letter and not the minority letter [dissenting board members sent a letter of their own last week asking Schwarzenegger to keep the ban in place] and acts on expanding offshore oil exploration, of course these figures [the annual CIAP kick-down] would become much more interesting to us.”
Prior to this week’s hearing, the supes had decided to give the bulk of the funding to the Goleta Beach restoration project, with proportionately smaller amounts earmarked for Pt. Sal access, Santa Claus Lane beach access, Jalama County Beach improvements, Santa Ynez River restoration, creek signage, business pollution reduction, and an ocean-related public opinion survey. When the smoke cleared Tuesday, the board had decided, on a 4-1 vote, to bump Santa Claus Lane and Jalama from the “funded” list and to reduce Goleta Beach’s portion from $1.9 million to $1.5 million.
Carbajal cast the lone dissenting vote, lobbying hard if unsuccessfully for the Santa Claus Lane project, which would find a better way for beachgoers to navigate the train tracks and rock walls on the path to the popular South Coast beach. “We have a public safety issue [at Santa Claus] which grows every day that we don’t act,” Carbajal explained, later adding, “It doesn’t feel good when it’s an important project in your district that’s not being funded.”
Also frustrating to Carbajal was the board’s indirect reiteration on Tuesday of its majority desire to keep Gaviota-related programs relatively low on the totem pole of priority. When they created their list back in February, the supervisors decided to exclude Gaviota-related programs-like the much talked-about Transfer of Development Rights Bank-from the first tier, much to the dismay of Carbajal and 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf. (Firestone, who represents the Gaviota area, ironically, voted against a measure at that time that would have aimed more than $1 million at the Gaviota Coast.) However, with this week’s revisit to the priority list, the opportunity existed to bump up Gaviota’s standing-something public speakers urged the supervisors to do. Despite their unanimous pledge of support for the preservation of Gaviota at a special hearing two weeks ago, most supervisors opted not to go that route.