A Primer on Montecito’s Land Use Agencies
Moms know a bowl of alphabet soup goes a long way in easing
children’s spats. Kids get a kick out of sorting the floating
letters and, once attention is diverted, conflict melts away. So
given that Montecito—a place with enough acronyms (MA, MBAR, MPC,
MCP, LUC, ARC, etc.) to fill a can of Campbell’s—is in a boiling
stew regarding some important planning decisions, perhaps some
cathartic alphabet sorting might diminish the rhetorical spitballs
being lobbed across Montecito these days in letters, mailers,
advertisements, and meetings both public and private.
The icebergs currently causing titanic polarization are Westmont
College’s building expansion plans, which will be discussed Monday,
November 6 at the Montecito Planning Commission (MPC); and the
beach staircase across the street from the Biltmore, which is
scheduled to be heard by the county Board of Supervisors on
Tuesday, November 7.
Contrary to popular notion, Montecito is not a city and, except
for the little cash-cow commercial finger of Coast Village Road,
not part of the City of Santa Barbara. The 10,000-person community
does not have its own government, looking instead to the county’s
Board of Supervisors for official decisions.
Nonetheless, Montecito boasts a long and sophisticated land
planning history. In 1930, after three years of hard work by
farsighted citizens, it became the first unincorporated area in
California to enact a zoning ordinance. Six decades later in 1992,
the Board of Supervisors adopted the Montecito Community Plan
(MCP), which still serves as the basis for deciding development and
But there’s wiggle room in the MCP and that’s where Montecito’s
alphabet arbitrators come into play. These acronymic
organizations—and their changing status—cause confusion among
newcomers and longtime players alike. So here’s a primer, from most
powerful on down.
Montecito Planning Commission (MPC):
Established in 2002 by the Board of Supervisors, the MPC reviews
projects under the MCP. Its five members are appointed by the 1st
District Supervisor. Currently, the commission is comprised of two
attorneys, an engineer, and a community design specialist with 86
years of collective experience in Montecito land use. Only the
Board of Supervisors can overrule the MPC decisions.
Montecito Board of Architectural Review (MBAR):
The MBAR advises the MPC and county Planning and Development on
size, bulk, scale, and aesthetics of proposed buildings. Decisions
can be appealed to the MPC. Six of the seven current members are
architects and many served with the Montecito Association’s
Architectural Review Committee (ARC), MBAR’s predecessor that was
disbanded in 2003.
Montecito Association (MA): Begun in 1947, the
MA is the oldest and, arguably, the strongest homeowners
association in the state. (It certainly shepherds some of the
state’s most valuable land!) Although not related to county
government in any way, the MA’s decisions on land use and other
issues were often rubber-stamped by the county Planning Commission
prior to the MPC. As such, the MA earned the reputation as the de
facto governing body. But now it’s just an advocacy group. The
17-member board—elected by the MA’s more than 1,000 members—reviews
projects at monthly meetings, acts as a discussion forum, and
appears before the official government bodies to remind decision
makers of the intent of the Montecito Community Plan.
Land-Use Committee (LUC): This subcommittee of
the MA meets monthly to review land-use issues. With no authority,
the LUC serves only as a study group to advise the MA board. There
are currently 13 members; most serve on the MA board and the others
are community members with land use experience.
So there you have it. These are the folks who do the hard work
of sheltering the tree-canopied lanes, soft landscapes, and
well-designed homes that make Montecito one of the most desirable
communities in the world. The semi-rural ambiance of Montecito
didn’t just happen. We have the alphabet soup to thank.