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Board of Supervisors Outlines Legislative Priorities

Among the 27 items on its list are the emergency medical services fund, cell towers and funding to carry out state mandates on child welfare services

As the state muddles through its own issues, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday discussed its 2010 legislative platform, outlining priorities and the funding it will continue to fight for.

Last week, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger released the state budget, revealing a $19.9 billion deficit over the current and next fiscal year and assuming $6.9 billion in federal funds — which many believe will not come through.

Discussion at Tuesday’s board meeting also turned to the governor’s pick for lieutenant governor, Abel Maldonado, who if elected could be the swing vote on the State Lands Commission. The commission turned down the governor’s proposal to move forward with the Tranquillon Ridge offshore drilling project last year in a 2-1 vote. The governor has said he would like to see state parks, whose budgets were cut $14 million last summer, funded by the money from the Tranquillon Ridge lease. The legislature has 90 days to act on the Maldonado nomination.

County staff began working on the platform several months ago, surveying department heads and speaking with the board about what’s essential. As a result, a slew of priorities ended up in the report.

Twenty-seven items were listed on the 2010 list of legislative priorities for the county, categorized among state, federal and shared federal and state, and a number of those most likely will be affected by the state budget.

New priorities for the county at the state level are the emergency medical services fund, a mechanism that generates funding via motor vehicle penalties and helps partially compensate physicians and hospitals for uncompensated trauma care and emergency services.

That money coming to the county will sunset in 2011, and the county is trying to implement a strategy to ensure trauma-care facilities remain funded.

Last year’s budget also saw an $80 million cut to child welfare services, passing the burden on to local governments. The county wants to make sure it is fully reimbursed for mandates imposed at the state level.

Funding for the Williamson Act also was listed as a state priority. It promises landowners a tax break if they dedicate their land to agriculture or open space, but the state has suspended these property tax repayments to local governments.

Supervisor Doreen Farr said she hopes the program will stay in place and that the county will make a commitment to continue to support it — with or without the state’s help.

“I see this not just as a state issue, but as a federal issue,” she said. “California agriculture has a very unique place in the world. We’re feeding not only our state, but the nation and the world,” adding that she would like to know what the federal government is doing to protect farmlands.

On the issue of telecommunications regulation, the county would like to ensure that local governments have the authority to weigh in on the actual siting of cell towers. The federal Communications Act pre-empts the county from prohibiting the antennas and states that localities can’t “regulate the placement, construction and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of environmental effect of radio frequency emissions.”

The county can influence the sites and design of the antennas, although there are limitations on that, too. The issue has been a contentious one this year, as dozens of applications for cell towers to be placed near homes and schools were submitted to the county from wireless provider Next-G Communications.

Additional revisions will be made to the document and come back before the supervisors on Jan. 19.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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