Charles “C.J.” Jackson’s family has owned and operated the Alisal Ranch since it began in Solvang in 1946. Jackson was born in Santa Barbara County and has lived in Santa Ynez for the past 12 years. He has been a member of many boards and organizations, and is intimately involved with planning and development issues in the Santa Ynez Valley. In other words, he’s not new to the game.
But his recent appointment by Supervisor Brooks Firestone as the 3rd District Planning Commissioner last month has left some-especially the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians-questioning the appointment.
‘After nearly a decade of fighting the tribe on virtually every project that has surfaced, I find it difficult to believe that Mr. Jackson can provide an unbiased opinion while sitting on the Planning Commission…’
Since his appointment, Jackson has stepped down as the executive director of the Santa Ynez Valley Concerned Citizens Group, which has often battled the Chumash over land use issues in the valley. Jackson doesn’t shy away from the past conflict with the tribe and describes a “very strenuous” relationship with it as a result of the disagreements. In a stinging August 29 letter to Firestone, Tribal Chairman Vincent Armenta expressed “shock and disappointment” over Jackson’s appointment. “After nearly a decade of fighting the tribe on virtually every project that has surfaced, I find it difficult to believe that Mr. Jackson can provide an unbiased opinion while sitting on the Planning Commission reviewing issues concerning the tribe,” Armenta wrote. Jackson, who didn’t receive a copy of the letter, was short in his response. “Naturally, I’m disappointed he said that, and I don’t agree,” he said. Planning Commission Chairman Michael Cooney said that Jackson can choose to step down from the dais during discussions involving the Chumash. “If he thinks he can review matters without prejudice, that will be the ultimate decision,” Cooney said.
It remains uncertain, however, if Jackson’s appointment will stand. Jackson’s approval by the Board of Supervisors was put on hold after the board voted 4-1 Tuesday to give County Counsel two weeks to investigate whether a conflict of interest-because of both Jackson’s relationship with the Chumash and his family’s ownership of the Alisal Ranch-would legally get in the way of decisions he would make as the 3rd District’s planning commissioner.
Former 3rd District Supervisor Gail Marshall said she thought Jackson could do the job. “I have no reason to believe he won’t be a thoughtful member of the board,” she said. “Based on my past experiences, he will take the time to look at all sides of the issues.” David Smyser, whom Jackson is replacing on the board, said he felt Jackson is better suited for the job than he was.
Since the Chumash are only bound by federal law-they pay federal income tax but not county property tax, for instance-any development on reservation lands avoids the county planning and development process, but not necessary permits such as those for sewer and water connections. Should the tribe decide to build on land outside the reservation, it could avoid the county planning process by using “land in-trust” to bring that land into the boundaries of the reservation.
“By appointing Mr. Jackson to this important position on the Planning Commission, you are sending a clear message to us that you don’t want us to work with the County on any of our off-reservation projects,” Armenta wrote. “In effect, you are essentially telling us that you would like us to place all of our property into trust.” The Concerned Citizens Group feels that bringing land in-trust would burden the community with negative impacts because any project on that property would avoid county scrutiny of its effects on the surrounding area.
Firestone, who said in a statement that Jackson “brings a strong knowledge of land use issues to the table,” first worked with him in 1998. That was the year Firestone, then a state assemblymember, Gail Marshall, and then-State Senator Jack O’Connell sponsored the Valley Blueprint. Jackson was the steering member of the Blueprint committee, which worked for three years planning for the future of the Santa Ynez Valley. During her two years working with Jackson, Marshall said she found him to be an “industrious and concerned” member of the community.
Jackson is winding up his time on the board of the Dunn School Board of Trustees and the Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital Foundation, but will continue on the board of Cottage Health Systems. He also was the director of the Santa Ynez Valley Economic Forecast Group. Despite Firestone’s recent announcement not to run for re-election, Jackson said he has not thought about a run at the now-open seat in 2008.
The county is facing some fairly major development-related issues, many of which are either situated in the 3rd District or will have impacts there. “When it comes to projects that are hotly debated, we look to the leadership of the commissioner in whose district it is occurring,” Cooney explained. With Santa Ynez and Los Alamos both developing community plans, Jackson would be busy right out of the gate. Further, the county is updating its uniform rules and the agricultural community is preparing proposals for development on parcels excluded from the Williamson Act. And on September 26, there will be a discussion of the Santa Barbara Ranch project, which could permit residential development on the Gaviota Coast. All three major discussions involve Jackson’s jurisdiction.
More generally, Jackson would be also representing a district with an expansive coastal region that includes UCSB and densely populated Isla Vista. Jackson said an “inherent tension” exists regarding how housing is allocated, where it goes, and how it gets done. Though he said he’s up to the challenge, Jackson thought the housing crisis will be the underlying factor impacting most of his business on the Planning Commission.
Regarding the question of whether Jackson was a good choice, his lengthy experience in the county provides clear answers one way or the other-often ayes from his colleagues, almost always a no from the Chumash community. Marshall said she hoped for the best: “Time will tell. C.J. has telegraphed a lot of his positions-through statements and his involvement in various organizations. But when you’re put in the position to represent all 400,000 people in the county, you tend to look at things differently. It’s hard to predict how someone will act in that position.”