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Bringing the World Closer

Santa Barbara Has Always Been a Destination

“Go often to the house of thy neighbor for weeds soon choke the unused path.” (after Ralph Waldo Emerson)

I was born in Santa Barbara on one of the only days it actually snowed, January 24, 1957. My parents lived and worked in Isla Vista: My father was building the UCSB campus, and my mom was taking care of my two brothers, who welcomed me into the world with snowballs in their tiny hands. There was not one paved road in I.V. back then, and over the years I have experienced my homeland changing. Today, paved roads and traffic are everywhere, and many of our beloved landscapes are vanishing.

Still, people flock here to visit … every day of the year.

Many come to enjoy our weather, beaches, abundant culinary experiences, and to visit their kids who are enrolled in local schools and universities. The Funk Zone is now a destination. People come for medical reasons — whether as patient or visiting nurse. The monks of Mt. Calvary open their doors to visiting strangers, and this is how we get to know one another.

When we know our neighbors and take the time to find out more about them, we are less likely to be at war with them. Borrowing a cup of sugar may have gone out of fashion, but when was the last time you knocked on your neighbor’s door just to say, “Hi, what’s up?”

Offering our homes as vacation rentals creates an opportunity to learn more about each other.

On December 6, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors heard testimony from the public before voting down a recommendation from the Planning Commission to ban all vacation rentals in the County of Santa Barbara. I would like to emphasize a few facts:

Vacation rentals do not take business away from hotels, are not impacting the availability of affordable housing locally, and do not create more neighborhood nuisances than other residential properties

While the Kardashian wedding fiasco a few years back may have exacerbated the dialogue, decisions made by the Santa Barbara City Council and the County Planning Commission are, in my opinion, very short-sighted.

We are all visitors here. Before we arrived, the native Chumash lived and worked here very happily for many years before Spanish conquistadors and Father Junipero Serra arrived on the scene and all but obliterated their peaceful, sustainable ways of life.

I’ve attended Planning Commission meetings on this issue and heard arguments from people on both sides of the fence. They say fences make good neighbors, but is that really the case when neighbors on either side do not see eye-to-eye? Many people testified that renting to visitors has enriched their lives and put much needed money into our local economy. Visitors eat at local restaurants, attend cultural events, shop, and buy local wines, paintings, and other things.

These days, I’m remembering when I heard that the only way to world peace is to make friends with the enemy. This was from Desmond Tutu while I was making a documentary film with Oscar Arias (former president of Costa Rica). It’s a big challenge. But we are up to the task?

Keeping vacation rentals means keeping close to $6 million in county bed tax revenue. Can you imagine how that money could be spent providing affordable health care and enhancing educational opportunities for our youth?

I can, and it is a beautiful thing … so, couldn’t we just learn to get along?

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