Friday, May 25 , 2018, 10:15 pm | Fair 60º

 
 
 
 

Jay Higgins and Eva Turenchalk: Stop the Coastal Commission Planning Grab

State agency sidestepping public process to propose major regulatory changes affecting Santa Barbara County business, agriculture, property owners ... and even nonprofits

Do you own property in the coastal zone? Do you run a business or farm? Do you care about schools, day-care centers or local nonprofit organizations? Are you concerned about the viability of small farmers, ranchers and local food options in our community?

Jay Higgins
Jay Higgins

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you need to be aware of the potential for dozens of major regulatory changes to Santa Barbara County policy. If adopted, these changes will require a hearing for just about any permit in the coastal zone and outright prohibit several currently allowed uses on coastal property.

These changes did not come from the county’s own planners or elected officials; instead, they were initiated by state Coastal Commission staff in response to a reformatting of the county’s zoning codes, with no environmental review and no real effort to involve or even inform the people who will be affected by this increased regulation.

Fortunately, you have a chance to make yourself heard. The Board of Supervisors will hold a hearing on July 6 to decide how it will respond to the Coastal Commission’s proposal.

Eva Turenchalk
Eva Turenchalk

The following are just a few of the proposed zoning code modifications the county will consider next week:

» A significant reduction of “permitted uses” on each property. The current zoning code lists all permitted uses for each zone district. The proposed changes would designate just one “principally permitted use” and all other uses (for example, a guest house on agricultural property or the keeping of a horse on residential property) would require a higher level permit with a public hearing, and a lengthy and expensive review process. This will have a major impact on many currently allowed uses in all zone districts, particularly on residential and agriculturally zoned properties.

» A wholesale prohibition of important public uses from a number of zones, such as nonprofit and charitable organizations, day-care services, schools, churches, libraries and museums.

» Prohibiting new private stairways to the beach and forbidding repair and maintenance on existing stairways. For decades, the current zoning code has allowed private property owners to build and maintain beach stairways. Now anyone who has a private stairway must either open it to the public or stop maintaining it, and no new private stairways will be allowed. This is not only a property rights issue; it raises serious concerns for public safety as private stairs are often used by emergency personnel for rescue operations.

» A burdensome requirement that any intensification of agricultural use require a permit. With no definition of “intensification,” it is unclear just how far-reaching this will be. But in a social environment in which we are trying to encourage sustainable food systems and local food production, we should be moving toward streamlining the permit process and incentivizing local agriculture, not adding more regulations.

» Voluntary habitat restoration projects will now require an appealable coastal development permit with a hearing because they are not designated as a principally permitted use in any zone district. This is directly counter to efforts currently under way in our county to facilitate and incentivize voluntary restoration projects.

As you can see, these changes do much more than simply increase public input. The modifications eliminate the ability to even apply for certain uses in several zone districts. Additionally, the increase in time and cost associated with the heightened review process has the potential for a significant chilling effect on habitat restoration and local food production in Santa Barbara County.

There is another issue of concern here: These wide-ranging regulatory changes are based on new interpretations of the Coastal Act, without the benefit of environmental review or an adequate public process. The Coastal Commission has not solicited any input from local residents in making these recommendations, nor has it held any public meetings or workshops on the matter.

If you’re concerned about this underhanded maneuver by the Coastal Commission to increase its power over local land-use decisions and further restrict property rights, attend the Board of Supervisors’ hearing on July 6. Give the supervisors the support they need to stand up to Coastal Commission staff and say “Enough is enough!” If the Coastal Commission wants to change land-use policy in Santa Barbra County, it should do so in an open and transparent process that includes full review of the impacts of its proposals, as well as public input through an iterative process — just like any other land-use agency in California.

— Jay Higgins AICP and Eva Turenchalk AICP are past presidents of the California Chapter of the American Planning Association, Central Coast Section.

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