While the large majority of public speakers at a hearing this week in Solvang on the Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan asked Santa Barbara County planning staff for more time, 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said he was inclined not to allow it. It was just the latest bump on the long road in the life of the 27-year-old community plan, which will give a long-lasting framework for future development and other land-use policies in the Santa Ynez Valley if it’s ever completed.
“I represent the valley,” declared Firestone, “and they want a plan.”
The evening meeting on Wednesday, July 9, was supposed to be for the public to comment on a draft of the plan’s Environmental Impact Report, which was released June 9. But speaker after speaker at the two-hour meeting explained that the 45 days allowed for public commenting was nowhere near enough time to assess the more than 800-page report. Most speakers asked the planners on-hand to extend the public comment period, and hardly really dug into commenting on the analysis of the report. “The proposed schedule is ludicrous,” said former planning commissioner Lansing Duncan to applause.
Planner Derek Johnson told the crowd it would be up to their elected representative to make a decision to extend the comment period. And it just so happened that their representative, Brooks Firestone, was in the audience. Despite sitting and listening to the testimony from his constituents, Firestone didn’t sound like he was ready to extend the comment period. “If I really felt the speakers represented the feeling of the valley, I would give it to my successors,” said Firestone, whose time in office will conclude at the end of the year. “But I feel a responsibility to the people not here.”
Both of the candidates to replace Firestone, Steve Pappas and Doreen Farr, spoke at the meeting, and both were in support of an extension of time. “We need more time if you want more than superficial comments,” argued Farr. Others, such as former supervisor Gail Marshall, questioned why the process was being expedited. She noted that only a few hearings in front of the county Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors had been planned, while in the past, other community plans were subject to several hearings.
But Firestone countered, “I represent the valley, and they want a plan.”
The plan encompasses 72 square miles of the unincorporated Santa Ynez Valley, including three townships – Los Olivos, Santa Ynez, and Ballard – and the neighborhoods of Woodstock Ranch, Oak Trails, and the Rancho Estates. The area hasn’t been reviewed for land use and zoning designations since the countywide update to the comprehensive plan in 1981, but has changed immensely in that time because of new growth and an expanding tourism industry. The 1981 plan allows for another 710 residences to be built, but the proposed plan grants an additional 226, for a total of 936 units. The proposed update also would reduce allowable commercial square footage from 585,533 to 555,334 square feet valley-wide.
As it is, public comment runs through July 24. The Planning Commission is slated to hear about the plan in the late fall.