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County Supervisors Continue Coastal Commission Talks, Approve Jail Tax for Ballot

The board also finds that a Grand Jury report on a Santa Ynez water district dispute would be best left to LAFCO

The arguably tricky issue of coastal planning was back before the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday as county staff attempted to explain the California Coastal Commission’s recommended changes to the county’s ongoing process to wrap up its Coastal Land Use Plan.

Citing a need for further review and dialog with the commission, supervisors voted unanimously to again continue the matter.

At last week’s hearing, numerous stakeholders and members of the public showed up to weigh in, most of whom were opposed to the extent to which the commission had imposed its authority over the county’s planning process.

“Usually, it’s one side and the other, but this was a real cross section of constituents,” First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal said, calling some of the recommendations “audacious.”

Having submitted its Coastal Land Use Plan in December 2006, Carbajal said the commission had plenty of time to review it, but that it had given county staff only two weeks to comb through the details of its recommended additions and revisions before the document went back to the board for a hearing.

“What’s baffling to me is that they are attempting to expand their jurisdiction,” he said, “but I understand from their perspective they’re trying to increase protection.”

County staff said that the Coastal Commission staff has examined many of the concerns raised by supervisors and members of the public, and that they have attempted to broaden or tighten language in the land use plan as appropriate to mitigate demands placed on permit applicants complaining that the commission’s approval process takes an inordinate amount of time.

Already at a massive 1,000 pages, the county’s overhaul of its coastal planning process had been under review by the Coastal Commission as part of a mandatory certification process, but county staff balked when they saw that nearly 400 more pages of revisions had been added. The supervisors had elected to continue the matter to allow further review of the changes.

Acceptance of the changes would broaden the number of land use parameters under the commission’s purvey — such as limits on farmworker housing in agricultural areas, granny flats in residential zones and private stairway maintenance on coastal bluffs. Denial would revert coastal code back to a status called “Title 2,” a designation stripping away all revisions made since the county’s Coastal Zoning Ordinance was enacted in 1982.

Supervisors at Tuesday’s hearing also were defensive of the county’s agricultural operations, some of which they said could be affected by limits on intensification.

“My biggest single concern when I saw this packet of information was its effect on agriculture,” said Third District Supervisor Doreen Farr, whose district includes the Gaviota Coast — one of the county’s most distinct swaths of agricultural land located within the coastal zone.

Community plans, several of which are still wending through the stakeholder input process, also could be affected by the county’s decision to accept or deny the revisions. The IV Master Plan, which has been in the works for a decade, would be knocked back to square one should the county revert to Title 2.

“I think we do an outstanding job with the staff we have to do a great job to protect the environment,” Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno said. “We do not want to detract from the beauty of our own county, and to suggest in any way that the Coastal Commission is better equipped to do this is a stretch.”

Board chairwoman and Second District Supervisor Janet Wolf urged her colleagues to keep the process moving forward.

“I think what bothers me about government is that we don’t move forward and make decisions,” she said, echoing many of the concerns noted earlier, but asserting that the board should do what it can to ensure that the coastal land use planning process reaches its denouement.

The matter is scheduled for further review at the board’s July 27 meeting.

Jail Sales Tax

Facing few detractors and pushed along by significant momentum, the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday accepted a second reading of the Jail Construction, Operation and Public Safety Enhancement Tax.

Designed to replace an emergency 1 percent sales tax — instituted by the state to tackle mounting budget problems — scheduled to sunset June 30, 2011, the new half-percent tax would fund a new $80 million North County jail and several prevention programs. Revenue from the tax is expected to be accompanied by a $56.3 million state grant.

Elected officials from Solvang spoke at Tuesday’s hearing and backed Sheriff Bill Brown’s claim that the new facility is badly needed. Detractors of the proposed tax said that too much of it would be used for purposes other than jail construction during a time when the state of the economy is a major concern for many — although even if it passed, the county’s current 8.75 percent sales and use tax would decrease to 8.25 percent.

Now that the Board of Supervisors has granted approval, Brown will set out to sell the tax — dubbed Measure S for the ballot initiative — to voters, who will make the final call at the polls on Nov. 2. If approved, the tax would take effect July 1, 2011, and last 14 years. Officials say the tax would generate $30 million in revenue to be used for jail construction, a number of repeat offender prevention programs, and some fire protection funding.

“This is not about creating a more comfortable environment for the inmates,” Brown said in a statement, explaining that overcrowding has caused the early release of more than 1,500 inmates every year in Santa Barbara County. “This is about enforcing the court’s orders, holding convicted criminals accountable for their actions and making a safer environment for our custody deputies. This measure will not only force inmates to finish their sentences, it will allow us to better prepare them for life after incarceration, which will reduce the chance of them victimizing someone else and landing right back in jail.”

1D1 Grand Jury Report

Also on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors examined a Grand Jury report submitted nearly three months ago delving into a jurisdictional dispute in the Santa Ynez Valley.

Titled “Currents and Undercurrents in the Santa Ynez Valley,” the report came from a number of complaints about the Santa Ynez River Water Conservation District, Improvement District 1 — also known as ID1.

The supervisors decided unanimously Tuesday to refer the matter to the Local Agency Formation Commission.

“We’re not the appropriate body to be involved in this issue,” said Farr, whose district includes ID1. “Really what the Grand Jury was asking was directed at LAFCO and their jurisdiction.”

Among the complaints that had been made to the Grand Jury were allegations that the district’s board of directors had committed violations of the Brown Act — legislation regulating transparency protocols for public agencies — and provided inadequate descriptions of agenda items.

Other complaints were aimed at an attempt by the district to pass legislation — Assembly Bill 2686, authored by Assemblyman Pedro Nava — rolling the district into two other similar special districts in the area. Critics maintained that the move amounted to an inappropriate expansion of authority, and called for a blue ribbon commission led by Farr to investigate.

ID1 General Manager Chris Dahlstron offered a few brief comments Tuesday in support of the board’s decision.

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

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