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Monday, March 18 , 2019, 3:06 pm | A Few Clouds 67º


Landowners Look to Rein In Proposed Regulations on Animals, Agriculture

Board of Supervisors will weigh in Tuesday on the California Coastal Commission's suggested changes to the county's land-use code

Changes to Santa Barbara County’s coastal plan have some local ranchers, animal owners and agriculturalists concerned about what they say will put more of a strain on their efforts in an already tight economy. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will weigh in on suggestions made by the California Coastal Commission to the county’s land use codes.

The commission’s proposed changes have caused a stir among some property owners, the biggest of which would require permits for things currently exempt from a fee, such as owning horses in residential areas.

Under the commission’s modifications, if a property owner in a residential area wants to keep a horse, and the area has never had that kind of use before, a coastal development permit would be required, at a cost of $1,000, according to Noel Langle, the county’s planning project manager for updates. According to the commission, the keeping of animals can constitute a “change in the density or intensity of use of land,” resulting in the need for a permit. The commission also argues that because animal keeping can degrade sensitive habitats, a permit is necessary to properly regulate activities.

The changes wouldn’t affect current owners and the horses they have on their property now, and adding horses to their property wouldn’t come at an additional cost. But those seeking to keep livestock, and even poultry, on their property for the first time could face a fee. 

Noozhawk spoke with Adrienne Schuele, a horse owner and Hope Ranch resident whose home lies in the coastal zone. The community, long known for its equestrian heritage, would be affected if the modifications pass, Schuele said, adding that it could affect future owners of her property down the line.

“Anybody who buys my property will have to get a permit,” she said.

Proving that she has had horses there — and what number — in order to determine whether the use was being intensified would be a challenge, she said. Schuele said the cost of the permit is only one cost of the equation, and that it could cost $4,000 to $7,000 for the permit and the hearing.

Schuele is also among those who take issue with the Coastal Commission making land use decisions that could usurp those of locally elected supervisors.

“We want to keep it local,” she said. “Why would we want to turn that over? The consensus is we have to vote this down and we need to hope our supervisors will exercise their power.”

The changes also would have implications on new agricultural uses of land, and a permit could be required for cultivated agriculture. If the area historically has been used for agriculture, it would be exempt. Increasing the intensity of livestock grazing also would require a permit, prompting concern among some ranchers.

“These new regulations would so severely hamper operations’ economic viability that many are likely to go out of business,” according a letter sent in July from the Santa Barbara County Cattlemen’s Association to county supervisors. “Our membership comprises hardworking ranchers who already are struggling, on razor-thin profit margins, to support their families and continue living on their land.”

But not everyone is against the changes. Officials from the Environmental Defense Center have urged the board to accept the changes, saying they “will protect the county’s unique and irreplaceable coastline from permanent pollution, erosion, habitat loss and visual damage.”

The process of approving the modifications has been a long one, and five public hearings were held this summer. Four informational hearings were held in October to gather additional input. The changes will go before the Coastal Commission during its next meeting Nov. 18 in Santa Monica.

The county’s original coastal zoning ordinance was certified in 1982, but over time, communities — including Goleta and Summerland — developed their own plans. Langle said the Coastal Commission feels there are a number of areas that don’t comply with the coastal plan. In addition, it’s an odd balance of power between the county and the commission. The commission’s role is to review the local coastal plan, which it can approve with modifications. The supervisors don’t have to approve the additions, though Langle said the county is working on other projects, such as the Gaviota Community Plan, and that many of the commission’s recommendations could resurface during that time.

“There’s a difference of opinion of exactly what the coastal act requires,” Langle said regarding the difference between what the county recommends and what the coastal commission does. 

In a letter sent Monday to supervisors, planner Eva Turenchalk explained why some groups in the community are taking issue with the modifications. The letter, signed by nearly 30 local land use professionals, stated that accepting the modifications would allow “policy to be set from the top down, by people that are unelected by and unaccountable to our community.”

Tuesday’s meeting will begin at 9 a.m. in the board hearing room of the Betteravia Government Center, 511 E. Lakeside Pkwy. in Santa Maria.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @laraanncooper, @NoozhawkNews or @Noozhawk. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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