Who’s on 2nd

Secord and Wolf Keep Goleta Valley Guessing

[EDITOR’S NOTE: In the print edition of this article,
Gary Earle of the Goleta Visioning Committee, which called for
strict development limits, was included as an endorser of Secord.
He did not do so. As well, it was reported in the print edition
that Janet Wolf received donations from the Bermant brothers, who
are interested in condo development. She did not. The
Independent apologizes for the error.]

Dan-Janet.jpgAt a recent forum, the two candidates for the 2nd District seat
on the Board of Supervisors squared off on the issue of who could
“play better in the sandbox.” Actually, Dan Secord said he “knows
how to play nicely in the sandbox,” while Janet Wolf claimed to
“play well with others.” It was the only topic on which each
candidate took an unambiguous stand. Neither the moderator nor
anyone from the audience asked follow-up questions on this topic,
but despite the electorate’s seeming indifference, the candidates
themselves brought up the issue repeatedly at subsequent
forums.

2nd District Race

Who can blame them for preferring frank talk about manners to
the awkward questions posed by the 2nd District? Half of its voters
are in the determinedly suburban Goleta Valley, while the other
half are in the touristy micropolis of Santa Barbara, and never
have the two segments seemed so mismatched. Voters in the City of
Santa Barbara — including the oddly shaped piece of the city
assigned to the 2nd District — are concerned with maintaining the
integrity of the “urban/rural boundary.” And that translates to:
Spare the countryside by concentrating housing in the cities and
suburbs. Meanwhile, the only kind of urbanization that Goletans
welcome with open arms is urban agriculture, meaning voters there
don’t want to see condos moving in next door or replacing the
remaining farms in their semi-rural residential community.

Residents in the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta have city
councils to represent them, but the vast majority of Goleta Valley
residents live in the unincorporated area between the two cities,
and the county Board of Supervisors makes these residents’ land-use
decisions. More and more, Goleta Valley residents can be heard
muttering, “Transfer development to Hope Ranch,” which is also in
the 2nd District. But the high property taxes in that wealthy
enclave help keep the county coffers full and their residents
contribute heavily to political campaigns. That leaves Goleta
Valley the most obvious target.

The spectacularly scenic Gaviota Coast and countryside lay just
north of Goleta, on the other side of the urban/rural boundary. The
City of Santa Barbara has been willing to entertain the notion of
taking some development pressure off Gaviota by inviting its
would-be developers instead to build inside the city — an emerging
strategy called transfer of development rights, or TDR. The City of
Santa Barbara doesn’t want to carry the burden alone, however; it
wants Goleta to shoulder its share of development, too. Mention to
Goletans the possibility of transferring development into their
valley, however, and they bristle. No wonder the candidates would
rather expound on social skills than outline a development
policy.

And since the candidates don’t like to talk about it, no wonder
Goletans are unsure as to who should represent their interests.
Wolf seems custom-made to represent the Goleta Valley suburbanites.
For starters, she is one of them. She has lived in the
unincorporated area for 19 years, raising a family and serving on
the board of the Goleta Union School District. During her time in
office she developed many personal connections and the trust of
many Goleta families. When Goleta Valley residents along the
campaign trail express concerns that high-density development will
degrade their quality of life — traffic, parking, and crime
problems — they seem to be preaching to the choir. “I know,” she
says. “I live here.”

Yet Secord, who left Goleta decades ago and served for years on
the Santa Barbara City Council, received endorsements from one of
the valley’s most fiercely protectionist, not-in-my-backyard
activists — Joe Guzzardi. [EDITOR’S NOTE: In the print edition of
this article, Gary Earle, a force on the Goleta Visioning Committee
that called for strict development limits, was included as an
endorser of Secord. He did not do so, and The Independent
apologizes for the error.] Guzzardi is the former 2nd District
candidate who took the unincorporated valley in the primaries. It
is true that he came in last overall (with 20 percent of the vote),
but it is also true that he spent less than half of what
frontrunners Secord and Wolf spent to get 30 percent each. The fact
that another of the valley’s hope-to-die slow-growthers, Goleta
City Councilmember Jack Hawxhurst, went the other way and endorsed
Wolf, simply proves how mystified the electorate is.

Who’s Your Daddy?

It is partly Janet Wolf’s backup that has led Guzzardi and other
NIMBYs to bet on Secord. Wolf’s worst quality, from their point of
view, is the fact that affordable housing advocates lined up behind
her during the primaries, joined at the hip to Goleta development
interests. These housing advocates have been relatively quiet
during the runoffs, but Wolf has continued to receive donations
from local architects and developers. [EDITOR’S NOTE: Contrary to
the print edition of this article, Wolf did not receive donations
from the Bermants.] She is even endorsed by the Home Builders
Association, a contractors’ group that supported Secord in the
primary. Evidently, the contractors are just as uncertain as the
slow-growthers.

But uncertain doesn’t describe the environmental groups
hell-bent on saving the Gaviota Coast, who have strongly endorsed
Wolf. Besides lawsuits and land trusts — strategies they have
historically relied on to save open space — environmentalists are
looking to TDR as the latest and greatest means to achieving that
goal. Although they have not targeted Goleta specifically, it is
safe to say they are more interested in preserving Gaviota than in
preserving suburbia.

All four of the Goleta City Council’s slow-growth activists have
given their endorsements to Wolf, but so has the entire Santa
Barbara City Council, claiming her as kin on issues of social
justice, environmentalism, and regional planning. And this provides
enough reason for Goleta Valley residents to worry they will not
have exclusive claim to Wolf, even if she is their homegirl.

Steely Jan

One has to wonder: How will Wolf be able to please such diverse
constituents? During the series of press conferences called to
announce these and other high-powered endorsements — Congressmember
Lois Capps and all of the public employee unions — Wolf usually
looked as much like a sphinx as a standard bearer. It would behoove
these endorsers to remember that for all her well-demonstrated
cooperative spirit, Janet Wolf has a stubborn streak. Her line of
business, as an independent rehabilitation vocational consultant,
is sometimes soft-pedaled as a counseling service helping injured
and otherwise disabled workers find jobs. In fact, it also involves
assessing the earning power of estranged spouses in divorce cases
and of suspected malingerers in worker’s compensation claims, and
testifying in court as an expert witness. It is hardly a job for a
pushover. Quiet, observant, and only moderately outgoing, Wolf is
paid to use her own judgment.

She will probably disappoint everybody to some degree. Are
housing advocates barking up the wrong tree? Both candidates have
now expressed their intention to support workforce housing on the
MTD-owned agriculturally zoned land at Turnpike and Calle Real,
though at lower densities than affordable housing advocates
originally hoped for. Beyond that, if Wolf has any particular
passion for housing the poorer working classes, she hasn’t shown
it. Every time she talks about workforce housing, she does so with
reference to firefighters and other first responders. Also,
environmentalists have already begun to notice that Wolf does not
show a marked hostility toward exurban development. While others
might suffer violent knee-jerk reactions to the very idea of auto
malls or even urban villages dotting the countryside — both of
which have recently been under consideration to raise revenues for
the county treasury — Wolf entertains these ideas without
flinching. If the environmentalists were not holding a gun to her
head, there’s literally no telling what she might do.

Maverick Dan

To tell the truth, Wolf probably does play better in the
sandbox. While Dan Secord is often likable and charming, he can
also come across as peremptory and arrogant. His real advantage
over Wolf, and he reiterates it constantly, is the depth and
breadth of his experience in government.

The Santa Barbara City Council’s endorsement of Wolf was a slap
in the face to Secord, who served on the council for eight years
and on the Planning Commission prior to that. He can comfort
himself that part of the reason for the council’s endorsement was
the fact that its members are all Democrats, while he is a
Republican. Secord tended to be in a minority of one on the
council, at least in discussions if not so often in final votes.
For a long time it was a hallowed council tradition to talk out
differences but then vote unanimously. Secord was part of that.
However, the slow-growth liberals on the Santa Barbara City Council
know they have no real claim to Secord.

His endorsements and contributors include some major Gaviota
Coast landowners. Secord has terrified Gaviota preservationists by
referring to “200 approvable developments” in the Gaviota Coast.
Yet environmentalists find it difficult to counter his conclusion
that the main problem with transferring development rights is
finding a place to transfer them to. As for the fears of the Goleta
Valley, condo developer Barry Berkus is Secord’s regular biking
partner and good friend. While this all does not necessarily signal
that Secord will represent the developers’ interests, they
certainly have his ear.

A Nightmare

Even Secord’s worst foes on the Santa Barbara City Council
concede that he is a good listener. Despite his ability to come to
a consensus with his fellow councilmembers on most matters, it’s
one thing to collaborate with a curmudgeonly, fiscally conservative
colleague who happens to be in a minority of one. If Secord were to
join the board, his former colleagues fear that Gaviota — not to
mention the agricultural character of all the rest of the county to
the north — would be at the mercy of a 4-1 majority of
property-rights advocates who, in their hearts, believe the only
truly legitimate way to prevent development is for some private
group to buy the property at maximum market value. A 3-2 vote is
sufficient to enact land-use decisions most of the time, but a 4-1
majority is the ultimate ticket to ride, allowing the board to
enact interim zoning ordinances for as many as two years and to
loan money to service areas.

If the environmentalists’ worst nightmare is that Secord will
take part in a developers’ orgy, the only thing anybody knows for
certain is that he reserves the prerogative to make his own
judgments. Secord was blasted by the Sierra Club and other
environmental groups for his record on the California Coastal
Commission (CCC), on which he served in 2005. The CCC’s most recent
annual report gave him a miserable 38 percent approval rating,
claiming he tended to side with developers in controversies brought
to the commission. Yet Sara Wan, the commissioner who got the
Sierra Club’s highest approval rating at 93 percent, confirmed that
she found Secord to be “honest, ethical, and thoughtful.” In
addition, Secord has the endorsement of Bendy White, a Santa
Barbara planning commissioner known for his determination to
squeeze as many social and environmental concessions as possible
from would-be developers.

The simplest way to distinguish the two candidates is by the
planning processes they have outlined, which are the closest either
of them have come to making campaign promises. Secord has proposed
setting up a planning commission body for the unincorporated Goleta
Valley, with legal powers to modify, accept, or reject proposed
developments in the valley — although its decisions could be
appealed to the county Board of Supervisors. Wolf, by contrast,
proposes to create a planning commission body for the entire South
Coast, which would address development for the entire region. For
Goleta Valley itself, she would set up an advisory committee.

How is it possible to protect Goleta and the Gaviota Coast? As
of yet, there are no clear answers. So far, current 2nd District
Supervisor Susan Rose and the rest of the board have funneled most
new housing development to the northern part of the county. This
cannot go on indefinitely, however. The supervisors are now talking
about lobbying Sacramento to rescind the housing mandates that have
so bothered Goleta, but it’s a long shot. Perhaps the North County
will also invite some Gaviota developers to build luxury homes
further north and east instead of on the Gaviota Coast — though of
course, that raises the specter of “urban villages” dotting the
agricultural landscape, which is another
developers-versus-preservationists fight looming on the horizon.
All these areas are vulnerable to development, and the questions
really are how much, what kind, and where. Ladies and gentlemen,
place your bets. Whoever gets elected to the 2nd District seat will
have some tricky problems to solve, and the rest of us will have to
live with his or her solutions.

For the candidates’ own responses to specific questions
about Gaviota Coast development,

Read the Press Release from the Naples Coalition
.

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