Years of stakeholder spitballing about the fate of the Gaviota Coast is coming to a head as Santa Barbara County planners joust with landholders and environmentalists over designations and regulations across more than 100,000 acres of some of the most picturesque and hotly contested oceanfront property in the world. The end result will be the long-awaited Gaviota Coast Plan, now in the honing stages on a spectrum of issues affecting the region, including public trails across private property, streamlined permitting for farm stands and small campgrounds, the balance of ranching and farming with the protection of endangered species, and whether to allow the owners of mineral rights the opportunity to frack, just to name a handful.
As it stands in draft form, the plan includes better protection of those grand land- and seascape views visitors and residents alike can take in from certain vantage points along Highway 101. While county staffers didn’t heed community calls for square-footage caps on the size of new homes, there is language restricting home height and guidance on properly screening new construction behind tree lines and other natural features.
On the farming front, the plan abides by some of the desires of stakeholder group Gaviota Coast Planning Advisory Committee (GavPAC) — formed in 2009 — in terms of easing restrictions on farmers and ranchers wanting to diversify their income sources within the greater realm of agriculture. For example, said Phil McKenna with the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, “You can have an 800-square-foot farm stand with a simplified permitting process so you can test the waters to see if there’s a market.” Other farm- and ranch-related businesses — such as composting and firewood operations — are also under consideration, as well guidelines allowing landowners to open up their property to tent camping and perhaps even a small number of RVs.
The plan is also on its way to allowing farmers and ranchers to more easily build residential second units (RSUs) in exchange for allowing public trails to cross their properties, a substantial quid pro quo, according to Guner Tautrim, 42, a sixth-generation Gaviota resident who helps run his father’s ranch, situated in the foothills between El Capitan and Refugio. Tautrim likes the RSU incentive “because it promotes generational farming on the same piece of property, but this is an incentive applicable for only a select few properties,” he said. However, he added, many of the GavPAC’s smaller trade-offs — all of which were designed to help free farmers and ranchers from the entanglements of the permitting process — never made it into planning documents. “Our incentive program never got fleshed out,” Tautrim said. “Now the Planning Commission has a big, difficult job to do on this, and I’d encourage them to honor what the GavPAC created. We spent years coalescing all the viewpoints, from the landowners to the developers to the environmentalists.”
“An expanded incentives program warrants public input,” said Supervising Planner David Lackey. “We will be continuing to look at more incentives.”
During the August 31 Planning Commission hearing, the Environmental Defense Center submitted that the plan ought to include better protection of endangered species habitat in zoned mountainous areas, which make up roughly a quarter, some 25,000 acres, of the plan’s scope. Community plans for Toro and Mission canyons include these protections, why not Gaviota? asked EDC staff attorney Alicia Roessler. County staff and commissioners are taking it all into consideration. The next hearing on the Gaviota Coast Plan is set for September 14.