The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission held its fifth meeting on the initiation draft of the Gaviota Coast Plan on Wednesday, August 7, to review the Natural and Cultural Resources element. Long Range Planner Brian Tetley described the Gaviota Coast as an area with one of the highest concentrations of sensitive resources and the largest continual stretch of rural coastal land remaining in Southern California.
“So much of the discussions about the plan have been about taking,” Phil McKenna, a member of the GavPac Committee noted in his public comments. “This is your opportunity, your time to act, to give back, in the form of stewardship.”
Most of the discussion relating to the stewardship issues revolved around how an ESHA (Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area) overlay should be applied to the inland portions of the Gaviota Plan area. Tetley noted that the riparian areas south of the freeway presently have an ESHA overlay and that staff was recommending that this be applied to the inland areas as well.
Fifth District Commissioner Daniel Blough then asked what the benefit would be if we already have existing policies in place. “Not in place now?” he asked Tetley. “No,” Tetley replied. Most of the discussion after this point regarded whether existing ESHA policies were adequate to protect Gaviota Coast natural resources or if the region’s unique and sensitive communities required additional protection.
One of the key concerns for both the commissioners and those who spoke at the meeting was the fact that much of the inland portion had not yet been mapped for sensitive species, thus making it difficult to understand how the adoption of more stringent ESHA policies would impact ranchers and residents there. While a number of speakers called for additional mapping, Tetley noted that mapping the entire coastline would be expensive, time consuming and couldn’t be completed within the current GavPac time frame. Brian Trautwein, Executive Director of the Environmental Defense Center, argued the mapping was still needed, saying, “If it isn’t mapped it won’t be protected.”
There was also discussion regarding the level of detail required in identifying the sensitive species along the coast. GavPac Chair Kim Kimball urged the Commission to approve a more general set of ESHA identifiers as opposed to Staff’s recommendation that a more specific listing of ESHA species would be appropriate.
“I’m totally confounded by what I heard this morning,” said Susan Petrovich, a lawyer with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, LLP. “We’re talking about a laundry list of species that could turn the whole inland area into an ESHA overlay.” Though the Staff proposal is intended to apply only to the riparian areas, addition of plant species such as those in the chaparral community could end up impacting almost the whole coastline. “We’re talking about applying a whole new scheme to the Gaviota Coast,” Petrovich complained. “I’m totally baffled by what Staff is recommending.” These comments were echoed by a number of Gaviota residents. “This would be a punitive plan if applied to all of the inland areas,” one speaker commented. “We need stewardship not punishment.”
While arguing that she was in favor of resource protection specific to the Gaviota area, 2nd District Commissioner Cecelia Brown was concerned that this section of the GavPac plan was not well written and that perhaps Staff should revise it and bring it back at a later date.
The next Planning Commission hearing will take place on August 19, when agriculture issues will be discussed. Additional meetings are set for August 28 and September 4, when previously tabled issues like the inland ESHA policies will be revisited. The Gaviota Coast Initiation Draft Plan can be accessed online at longrange.sbcountyplanning.org.