by Ethan Stewart

Third District County Supervisor Brooks Firestone (pictured
right) and the director of UCSB’s Ocean and Coastal Policy Center,
Dr. Mike McGinnis (left), went head-to-head before an audience of
nearly 70 in a debate regarding the future of the Gaviota Coast.
With the proposed development of Naples and dozens of other plans
for luxury homes in the area in various stages of the county
approval process, the Saturday night event offered a unique forum
for two major players in the drama to clear the air. Hosted and
moderated by members of the Reagan Ranch Leadership Academy — a new
local young Republican think tank — the debate was sometimes fiery,
though it concluded with both parties expressing hopes of working
together in the future.

Firestone sought to dispel the perception that the coast is
under attack by pointing out that current proposals for the Gaviota
Coast represent approximately one-third of the area’s development
potential. “There are those who would have you believe there is an
alarming issue going on here. … Well, there isn’t,” he said.
Relying on the same development calculations, McGinnis drew a very
different conclusion, saying, “At the very least, we are going to
have 136 mansions along the coast in the next six years, unless the
community comes together.” Firestone suggested that conservation or
open spaces easements might help temper what he perceives as
inevitable development. “People with money buying conservation open
space will be what saves this coast,” he said.

The back-and-forth continued as McGinnis accused the county of
lacking leadership and a clear vision regarding the future of the
environmentally significant region. Alluding to the scarcity of
public discourse on the subject since efforts to make the region a
national park several years ago were rebuked by landowners and the
county, McGinnis asked the supervisor, “Why is there no general
plan? As it is, there are no permanent means of protection along
this coast.” Firestone countered that the county is “bringing in
landowners and hoping they do the right thing. And when it’s time,
we [the supervisors] will also do the right thing.” He then quickly
added that property rights exist and that “the will to develop will
always be a possibility.”


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