Eastern Goleta Valley of Thorns
Amid Fire Concerns, Debate Grows Around Chaparral as Sensitive Habitat
Seven years ago, when the county started the Eastern Goleta Valley Community Plan process, no one thought the argument in the 11th hour would be about thorny brush. But whether all types of chaparral qualify as environmentally sensitive habitat was one of two major issues discussed Tuesday, when the supervisors ultimately voted 3-2 to approve the plan.
While many acknowledged the long-contentious battles in the Goleta Valley — over development in a low-density area — had been largely resolved, several environmentalists took to the podium to dispute county staff’s determination that chaparral could be cut back 100 feet (or up to 300 feet with fire department approval) around structures so as not to fuel wildfires. Environmental Defense Center attorneys, who met with Planning and Development staff at the tail end of the lengthy process, argued chaparral supports sensitive species, protects watersheds, and that the ordinance limits the types of chaparral identified as sensitive, creating inconsistencies within the plan.
But Philip Seymour — the self-described “most biased speaker,” a firefighter turned environmental attorney who now lives near Painted Cave — said all chaparral that is located in the area is not sensitive. Supervisor Janet Wolf, who represents the Goleta Valley, called the issue personally difficult because on one hand, she has been evacuated from her home twice since it burned down in the Painted Cave fire, but on the other, she appreciates the incredible chaparral-filled mountainside. She disapproved of unsanctioned clear-cutting.
The other main issue was an argument about rezoning properties along the Hollister Avenue corridor from commercial to mixed-use zoning. Supervisors Steve Lavagnino and Peter Adam, who argued that a rezone could be a death sentence for the businesses that are located on the 55 parcels and could be considered an economic taking, voted against the plan. “At the end of the day, we should be extremely reluctant to take … value out of our neighbors’ property,” Adam said.
County staff noted the rezone would not impact a business immediately; it would have to change its use. Wolf argued the rezone of the Hollister corridor is an “integral string that ties this whole plan together.” Refuting the argument that the owners were in the dark about the change, Wolf said there were many opportunities for owners to voice concerns.