Produced by a stakeholder-spearheaded process both tenacious and arduous — and spanning more than seven years and 130 public meetings — the weighty Gaviota Coast Plan landed in final draft form before Santa Barbara County supervisors Tuesday morning. The 240-page document attempted to fill the tall order of providing fair and balanced guidelines and regulations for agriculture, development, and public access across the picturesque front-country between western Goleta and Vandenberg Air Force Base, with the intention of supporting farmers and ranchers and preserving their rural landscapes.
With a few final edits by Supervisor Doreen Farr — whose 3rd District encompasses the entirety of the document’s 101,199-acre, 1,000-parcel scope — the board voted 3-2 to adopt the plan. In casting his vote against, board chair and 4th District Supervisor Peter Adam called it “inappropriate” to have launched a community-driven effort to oversee agricultural holdings across 77,820 acres. The other dissenter, 5th District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, wasn’t comfortable with opening a door through which the general public may feel entitled to hike across private property. “Plus,” he added, “there’s all these people here saying ‘wait’.”
Lavagnino was referring to the majority of four dozen public speakers who urged the board to rewrite the plan to include several key points drafted by stakeholder group Gaviota Coast Planning Advisory Committee (GavPAC) that had never made it into the final draft. Chief among those points was the desire for a robust incentives program, a quid pro quo by which a landowner could secure permission to build an additional home.
Charles “Kim” Kimbell, GavPAC’s chair since its 2009 inception, said the bulk of the group’s incentives didn’t make it into the plan. In particular, GavPAC advocated that landowners voluntarily entering into conservation easements ought to be able to build residential second units (RSUs). As written, however, the plan only offers RSUs to landowners who allow public trails across their properties, and that deal is only available to a limited number of parcels already aligned with existing public trail maps. The trail talk also raised concern that opening easier access for the general public — and the litter and trampling that often comes with it — would only serve to overcrowd and degrade the very canyons and creeks the plan seeks to protect.
Many environmentalists, while big on trails, said the plan doesn’t go far enough to protect the Gaviota Coast against oil and gas development. As written, the plan urges future implementers to “discourage” such industry. Environmentalists urged the board for an all-out ban, to no avail.
By Paul Wellman