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My Dog Can Eat Your Honor Student

WILD AND IMPETUOUS: To steal somebody else’s
line, fasten your seatbelts — it’s going to be a bumpy ride. That’s
because Brooks Firestone has just taken over as chairman of the
board for the county Board of Supervisors. Lurking beneath
Firestone’s effervescently upper-crust and ebulliently enthusiastic
exterior beats the angry heart of a hot-tempered wild man, who’s
impetuous, impulsive, and impatient to boot. And did I mention
thin-skinned? Whatever epidermis Firestone once had appears to have
been scraped off years ago, and it definitely shows.

Normally, the supervisors’ first meeting of the new year is
strictly a ceremonial feel-good event in which new boardmembers get
sworn in and everyone holds hands in an extravaganza of faux
kumbaya and good will. But at last week’s inaugural, Firestone
blatantly bucked tradition, and helped orchestrate a high-profile
diss on 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal, with whom he often
disagrees. By messing up Carbajal’s hair in so public a fashion,
Firestone — aided and abetted by supervisors Joni Gray and Joe
Centeno — let Carbajal, who represents the Montecito Money Belt,
know in no uncertain terms that next time they might take off his
head. Specifically, Firestone et al. voted to delay Carbajal’s
appointment of three individuals to the Montecito Planning
Commission, much in disfavor these days with Beanie Baby Mogul Ty
Warner and other gazillionaires who don’t like being told what to
do. Traditionally, the supervisors — who are elected to represent
geographically distinct districts — have been loathe to meddle with
what’s been regarded as the internal affairs of their colleagues.
Accordingly, appointments to the various boards and commissions
specific to a given district are second-guessed only once every 300
or so years.

On the surface, Firestone, Gray, and Centeno claimed to be
responding to complaints from a brand new group of Montecito
activists — orchestrated into existence, no doubt, by Ty Warner’s
PR gremlin and Firsetone’s former campaign manager John
Davies — upset that the design of new steps Warner has proposed for
the beach at Butterfly Lane have been challenged by a bunch of
self-important know-it-alls affiliated with the Montecito Planning
Commission. But that was just a smoke screen. The real deal was
that Carbajal had the temerity to demand more information about the
sweeping changes Firestone, Gray, and Centeno are pushing for what
new kinds of development should be allowed on about 550,000 acres
of privately owned farmland throughout the county. Firestone
insists that without relaxing the restrictions that govern what can
be built on ag land in a strategically limited fashion, agriculture
as we know it will cease and desist, and Santa Barbara’s
magnificent rolling hills will soon be obliterated by mansions and
condos as far as the eye can see.

For all I know, Firestone could be completely right. But the
rule changes he wants will cause a lot more traffic on a number of
major roads that are already glorified parking lots. Add to that
the extra traffic burden we can expect from a host of other mega
policy changes relating to agriculture, and you have the makings
for a very real nightmare. Maybe that’s okay, but we should know
what we’re getting into before we decide, not after the fact when
it’s too late.

Carbajal’s efforts late last year to find out the cumulative
effect of all these proposed changes got him nearly gaveled to
death by Firestone’s predecessor as board chair, Gray. But it
wasn’t just Carbajal asking. Naturally, South Coast enviros also
wanted to know, but this is hardly your typical North versus South
County power politics showdown. Carbajal was just one voice in a
chorus dominated by a host of well-entrenched, well-established,
big moneyed Santa Ynez players with strong personal and political
connections to Firestone. Slow down, they cautioned. So did every
member who Firestone appointed to the Central Coast Architectural
Board of Review. And so did the county’s Planning Commission,
hardly a hotbed of environmental obstructionism. They all
understand the effect of these proposed changes would be acutely
felt throughout Santa Ynez Valley, which Firestone represents. But
Firestone was in such a hurry to ram these changes through that he
had to be embarrassed into holding a public meeting on them in
Santa Ynez. One week later, Firestone attempted to rush a vote on
the matter at the Board of Supervisors meeting. The Environmental
Defense Center took the unprecedented step of filing a 13-page
letter charging Firestone with a conflict of interest because he
owns 573 acres of land that would be made considerably more
valuable if the proposed rule changes were approved. Pending a
ruling by the Fair Political Practices Commission, Firestone has
been forced to sit out this one. Without his vote, the proposed
rule changes are deadlocked 2-2, meaning they can’t pass.

Naturally, Firestone is steamed. Having been born with not just
a silver spoon in his mouth but enough silverware to host a formal
banquet, Firestone is immune to the financial inducements that
might sway other mortals. But the law is the law, and he appears to
be solidly on the wrong side of it. Given that Firestone has
recused himself from at least two board votes because of possible
conflicts of interests considerably more minor, it’s hard to
understand how this eludes his grasp. To the extent that the
proposed agricultural rule changes have been jeopardized, Firestone
can blame himself. Had he taken the time to do the cumulative
analysis requested, it would have added two months to the whole
process. Guess what? The delays caused by the conflict of interest
charge have already tacked on an extra two months. In the meantime,
Firestone managed to stir up a hornet’s nest in Montecito. Even
people who regard the Montecito Planning Commission with as much
contempt as Firestone are rallying to Carbajal’s support.
Montecito’s property tax payers don’t just subsidize a host of
essential services the county could not otherwise afford, they also
give substantially to political candidates running for county
office.

This Tuesday, Firestone delivered a decidedly half-hearted stab
at kissing and making up with Carbajal, announcing that Salud’s
political appointments would be approved without further
molestation. But by then, the damage was done. Like I say, fasten
your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

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