Assigning a grade to Santa Barbara County is a difficult prospect, as efforts toward reducing its residents’ impact upon the land involves examining the likes of college students in Isla Vista, affluent families in Montecito, and ranchers in North County. However, the county has made notable progress to ease the burden it and its residents place on the land on which they live.

Simply put, the California Integrated Waste Management Board estimates that-based on data from 2004, the most recent available-Santa Barbara County diverts 63 percent of its waste away from landfills and into recycling programs. That’s not bad, especially considering the minimum 50 percent demanded by the State of California and the statewide average of 48 percent. Part of this success would be a program mandating recycling from commercial operations in unincorporated areas of the county. However, as even the county’s official Web site for recycling programs admits, more can be done.

Perhaps one of the more innovative strategies the county is looking into to reduce its carbon footprint would be the cultivation of jatropha plants-a species grown in India for its high oil content-which alternative energy enthusiasts propose as a prime source of biodiesel. Though a crop of jatropha grown this past year at county landfills was largely damaged by frosts, a hardier stock could prove to be the key to powering public vehicles with a clean, biologically derived fuel-and ideally, at a higher biodiesel-to-fossil-fuel ratio. Count this plan among other free-thinking ones such as employing a falconer to rid Tajiguas Landfill of its excess seagull problem.

County Architect Robert Ooley explained the county’s take on increasing sustainability as a process of implementing the imminently feasible measures first, and then working in gradually more expensive undertakings. For example, a campaign to swap workplace lighting for bulbs that utilize less power and generate the same amount of luminosity betters county efficiency with simple technological substitutions. However, more grand plans-such as the near-$150,000 construction of new buildings to utilize geothermal energy-require more extensive evaluation. More long-range plans, Ooley explained, would seek to identify the volume of carbon dioxide emitted by all county buildings-tool sheds to communications buildings to jailhouses, he said-and then assign energy budgets to these operations.

One of the biggest battlegrounds for the issue of countywide sustainability will almost certainly be the proposed urban village between Los Alamos and Orcutt. The future of this project could easily drop the county’s grade if the environmentalists decrying the village as an expansion of suburban sprawl turn out to be correct. Project proponents, however, claim the village is designed to be self-sustaining and can be designed from the ground up as an example of a balanced, ideal community. The reality of the planned community remains to be seen.


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