The long-awaited review of the Draft Gaviota Coast Plan began this Tuesday in front of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission after more than five dozen public hearings, countless subcommittee meetings, and three years of contentious debate over the future of the Gaviota Coast.

The Planning Commission has initiated a series of public meetings to consider the Gaviota Planning Group’s (GavPac) recommendations to the Board of Supervisors. Issues that GavPac has made recommendations on and the Planning Commission will be reviewing include natural and cultural stewardship; agriculture; parks, recreation, and trails; land use; visual resources; and transportation, energy, and infrastructure.

Though there were no fireworks on display Tuesday, those who braved the hours devoted to presenting the GavPac plan, as well as hearing staff recommendations and public comment, left feeling the meeting was a prelude to dealing with more contentious issues relating to land use and trail locations. “The trail issues may be one of the most difficult and sensitive that we are facing,” said 1st District Planning Commissioner Michael Cooney. “I don’t see resolving the trail issues until late in the game,” added 4th District Commissioner Daniel Blough. Planning Commission Chair Joan Hartman agreed that the thorny issues relating to land use and trails could necessitate additional meetings beyond the ones currently scheduled to review the GavPac recommendations.

The exact location of the California Coastal Trail along the Gaviota Coast promises to be one of the most difficult issues to resolve. Numerous speakers at Tuesday’s Planning Commission hearing supported the goal of locating the Coastal Trail within the “sights and sounds” of the Pacific Ocean as envisioned by the passage of Proposition 20 in 1972 and established through the California Recreational Trails Act of 1974. Others argued for more flexibility, with the trail directed around working ranches such as Las Varas to accommodate their cattle operations.

Complicating these issues is the fact that GavPac and the Santa Barbara County Long Range Planning staff are at odds when it comes to a number of recommendations. Each has provided maps that lay out their own vision of where the California Coastal Trail should be located. Plan A as envisioned by GavPac would take the trail north of the freeway in places to avoid private holdings while Plan B recommended by staff recommends a bluff-top route keeping with the spirit of the California Coastal Act.

The next scheduled meeting of the Planning Commission to consider the GavPac recommendations will be held June 26 in the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission Hearing Room at 123 East Anapamu Street.

For more information about the Gaviota Coast Plan, go here.


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