Janet Wolf
Paul Wellman (file)

Santa Barbara County 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf said Tuesday she was shocked that the board she sits on chose to reject the California Coastal Commission’s certification of the county’s land-use development codes with suggested modifications and instead, in essence, decided to start the process over.

She also didn’t bite her tongue addressing the notion that people were unwilling to accept how far the county’s staff had come with the Coastal Commission in reaching compromises to the modifications, saying she felt like she was “dealing with juveniles — that we aren’t getting exactly what we want, so we’re not taking anything. … Now we’re going to throw it away and start all over,” she said, “and we don’t have the money or resources to do that.”

The fear of the majority, which outvoted Wolf 4-1 at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, was that local land-use control was going to be usurped by the Coastal Commission should the certification take place. For instance, the Coastal Act would require a coastal development permit before animals could be added to a property in the coastal zone. And new private bluff stairways would be prohibited, as well. “I believe strongly in not taking away people’s personal property rights,” said 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino.

For the better part of a decade, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors has been working to update county land-use codes in such a way that coastal portions of it are in compliance with the Coastal Act. Instead of accepting or rejecting the certification at a meeting a few weeks back, the supervisors chose to continue the discussion after 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr reached out to the Coastal Commission’s executive director, Peter Douglas.

It appeared that compromise was in the air, and compromise, at least in theory, did come in several disputed areas of the code during subsequent discussions with Coastal Commission staff, who indicated they would be amenable to some modifications. However, the compromise from the actual Coastal Commission — which voted 10-2 in November not to move from its stated position — is yet to be seen. As well, how this opens up board decisions to appeals to the Coastal Commission also remains an issue.

But the Board of Supervisors, encouraged by the good faith they saw coming from the Coastal Commission staff, chose to extend the wait longer, voting to further develop alternatives to the Coastal Commission’s suggested land-use modifications and resubmit them at a later date. “We need to find a better way to balance our constituents’ needs,” Carbajal said.

While the Coastal Commission staff had conceded they could support some changes — like an increase in the development standard for the volume of grading (from 100 cubic yards to between 1,000 and 5,000 cubic yards based on parcel size) — they also had indicated they wouldn’t budge in others, like not allowing new private bluff stairways. The commission staff had indicated it could support treating existing legal private bluff stairways as conforming uses, allowing repair or replacement when needed.

Still, the four supervisors, egged on by many of the lawyers, residents, and community members to speak Tuesday, weren’t satisfied. The county would be modifying “practices they’ve done for decades without serious incident,” Farr said. “I’m not saying no to the Coastal Commission and their staff, but I am saying yes to our people and our process.”

Wolf, meanwhile, expected those compromises by the Coastal Commission staff to lead to finalizing the certification. All along, the board was asking staff to negotiate with Coastal Commission staff to get the sides close, she said. If they were planning to make that decision in the first place, she said, it should’ve been done six months ago to save county staff time and money. “It was so disappointing and baffling,” she said.


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