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Friday, January 18 , 2019, 12:59 pm | A Few Clouds 63º


Coastal Commission Suggests Major Changes to County Planning Policy

The Board of Supervisors will receive a summary Tuesday of the extensive revisions to land use code

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is poised to receive on Tuesday a summary of one of the most important policy documents for a coastal community in California — its coastal land use and development code, for Montecito and for unincorporated areas of the county.

Already covering more than 1,000 pages, the document has been undergoing a California Coastal Commission certification process — required by the Coastal Act — for nearly three years. In its review of the code, the Coastal Commission added nearly 400 pages and 36 suggested changes, leading some county officials to fear that years of work might be at stake.

“We didn’t think [their revision] was going to be that extensive,” said Noel Langle, a project manager with the county’s Planning and Development Department, adding that furloughs and budget cuts at Coastal Commission staff offices in the past few years haven’t helped matters much. Even in his office, Langle said there have been significant cuts in as many years.

In its lengthy review of the county’s coastal ordinance — a policy redesign that essentially collapsed five overlapping codes into one comprehensive code in order to simplify the planning process — the commission made several major changes, which some planners say would complicate an already complex coastal planning process.

For example, more development activities — including construction of farmworker housing in agricultural areas, and so called granny flats in residential zones — occurring in the coastal zone would fall under the umbrella of the Coastal Commission’s hearing process.

The commission also specified that only public use access stairways should be allowed on coastal bluffs. Private residences would not be permitted to build new stairways, and existing ones would be considered “nonconforming” under the code’s commission-amended language, ruling out the possibility of repair in case of storm damage. Sea level rise is also addressed in the revisions, requiring a coastal hazard analysis for flooding — assuming a sea level rise of 3 to 6 feet per century — for all coastal development projects.

After the Board of Supervisors reviews the commission’s changes on Tuesday, the revised document is scheduled to make an appearance at the commission’s hearing in Ventura on April 15. If the commission accepts its staff’s modifications to the county’s coastal land use code, Santa Barbara County supervisors would have six months to accept or deny the revisions. Barring that, county staff reverts to what is known as “Article 2,” which essentially invalidates all amendments made to the county’s coastal policy since its coastal zoning ordinance was enacted in 1982.

“It’s not out of date; it’s just not in a very user friendly format,” Langle said of Article 2, adding that most of the changes the county has made to the code were language adjustments to eliminate overlap and repetition. “A lot of what we did was just a reorganization of what we already had. I think [the Coastal Commission] took this opportunity to fix things in the code that they’ve been wanting to fix.”

Open Space, a blog posted by the Central Coast Chapter of the American Planning Association, took a shot at the Coastal Commission’s treatment of the process, asserting that the commission hadn’t solicited any public input while making its revisions.

The blog’s authors also contended that if the Board of Supervisors decides not to accept the revisions, years worth of planning work would essentially be set back to square one, including the Eastern Goleta Residential Design Guidelines, the Isla Vista Master Plan, the contentious Naples project on the Gaviota Coast and a number of smaller ordinances.

In a draft letter to Coastal Commission chairwoman Bonnie Neely — which will be reviewed by supervisors at Tuesday’s hearing — county staff suggested that the board support most of the commission’s changes, but take exception with four of them, which the letter said did “not appear to be necessary and/or required to achieve consistency with the Coastal Act and the county’s certified Land Use Plan for the Coastal Zone.”

Coastal Commission staff members were unavailable Monday for comment.

Langle said that a lot of what the Coastal Commission decides to do is out of the county’s control.

“We just have to grin and bear it and live with it sometimes,” he said. “I’ve been working on this thing for over five years now, and I’d just like to bring it to a conclusion and move on to something else. It’s taking an inordinate amount of time.”

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

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