After more than two years and 60 meetings by the Gaviota Coast Planning Advisory Committee (GavPac) to update land use plans for the Gaviota area, the process has shifted to what Santa Barbara County Deputy Director of Long Range Planning Jeffrey Hunt termed the “business” phase.
According to Hunt, the rationale for the shift is to move from the conceptual and fact gathering stage towards a timeline-based process designed to complete work on the Draft Gaviota Coast Plan within the next month and move it on to the Planning Commission by May. The ultimate goal is to have Board of Supervisors approval by July so the environmental review process could begin on the plan shortly after that.
But this effort to streamline the process did not go over well with committee members or others who attended GavPac’s February 13 meeting. Nojoqui Ranch owner Bill Giorgi urged county staff to “back off” in his public comments, claiming they’re burying GavPac with proposals that members haven’t seen and shoving them against a deadline that doesn’t allow for proper review. “It looks like staff is driving the bus,” he complained, “not GavPac.”
Committee members chimed in with complaints of their own. At recent meetings, GavPac was provided with a series of worksheets in which goals and action policies were listed on one side with suggested staff revisions on the other. “We got 167 pages of material relating to Agricultural and Recreation on Friday, just four days before this meeting,” committee member Jennifer McNabb said. “I didn’t know where to start. I felt sandbagged.”
To some members of the committee it appeared in recent weeks as if the process was heading towards the development of a “two-plan” process, whereby both GavPac and county staff would eventually submit their own separate proposals. GavPac members have since voted that what goes to the Planning Commission should be the GavPac approved plan, and that if county staff wants to present their own draft proposal they can do so in a separate document.
“Unfortunately, that isn’t quite how the process works,” Hunt said in a recent interview. “GavPac members are entitled to their opinions, and they’ve done a tremendous job thus far. I believe by the time the report is completed the majority of the recommendations in it will be those drafted by GavPac. However,” he continued, “our staff is obligated to and has the responsibility for providing our professional advice and to put together the plan that goes to the [Planning Commission]. The standard procedure is for staff to take the committee’s advice and then we draft the plan. GavPac seems to want it the other way around, the opposite of what is usually done.”
Differences between GavPac and Long Range Planning staff were no starker than at the next GavPac meeting on February 20 when the discussion turned to the Parks, Recreation and Trails component of the draft plan. The GavPac recommendations reflected a fairly conservative approach to dealing with trails on private property, routing a good portion of the California Coastal Trail north of Highway 101 between the Bacara Resort and El Capitan State Park. Staff’s recommendation focused on a coastal blufftop route that would take the Coastal Trail through a number of these properties and along the bluff’s edge.
Trails Subcommittee Chair Terri Bowman spoke out against staff’s proposed blufftop route, noting that over the course of more than 20 meetings the subcommittee had spent many hours crafting the GavPac route. “It was a fair and collaborative process,” she told staff. “What you are recommending removes almost all of the efforts and struggles that we’ve put in.” However, another GavPac member — Phil McKenna — applauded staff’s recommendations. “What staff is recognizing is the reality that the plan needs to be approved by the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors, and eventually the Coastal Commission.” Despite McKenna’s support, GavPav approved its own trail proposal with a 6-1 vote and one abstention.
When asked if he agreed staff’s position is the acknowledgement that the GavPac proposals wouldn’t be able to get through the Coastal Commission, Hunt replied, “I think that’s a fair assessment. Generally, the members of planning committees like GavPac have a narrower focus, but staff has the responsibility of developing a plan that will lead up down the road to adoption.”
After additional hearings this weekend and one or two more meetings to deal with issues that have been tabled for further discussion, GavPac’s part of the process will be complete. The next step is for County Long Range Planning staff to complete their recommendations and send them on to the Planning Commission. If things go as planned, the completed plan and environmental review will be in the hands of the California Coastal Commission by September, 2014.