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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 3:34 pm | Overcast 60º


Letter to the Editor: County Weapons Are Dull When Wielded by Planners

In the last two months, the Santa Barbara County Planning & Development Department has failed miserably and with great expense to crush the Short-Term Rental and the Winery businesses.

Over the course of five hearings at the Planning Commission and two in Montecito, plus a host of “public outreach” meetings, P&D created such a flawed attack on STRs that the Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 to insist that they come back, with a more sensible plan.

In order to try again, they must once again go before the Planning Commission, seek approval there and then come back to the BOS.

Even the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), one of several bibles used by P&D, has three sections in which it declares, “no possible impact” from STRs.

Complaints from the public are most often used as the basis of storm-trooper action by supervisors and planners. However, after reading 756 pages of reports about this issue one can only discover two areas where possibly legitimate complaints could be found. Since there is no current ordinance for reference, most of this mountain of print was consumed with inter-office emails among the planners.

At the last BOS hearing, about five women in Santa Barbara and a couple in the Santa Maria hearing room, spoke against STRs. At least 75 speakers lined up to support STRs.

Neither the planners nor the supervisors took much note of this disparity. Supervisor Janet Wolf, who had made up her mind before the hearing, spoke for a complete ban. After asking numerous questions to which she already knew the answers, she lost the vote to four other supervisors, including pal Doreen Farr.

The most frequently heard complaints are nonspecific and subjective. They fall into the category of “spoiling the character of the neighborhood” or, in other words, classic NIMBYISM. How does one define character of a neighborhood, or what spoils it?

Arguably, there are five possible nuisances: noise, lights, traffic, parking and dust. One can complain about these to the sheriff and even the county with mixed results. It’s a bit easier to call the owner of the premises or even drop in on the nuisance makers and request moderation or mitigation of the problem. If that fails, then the sheriff or county would be the next stop.

These nuisances are reasonably dealt with in the Land Use Development Code, and this has operated very successfully in the Special Events business. Complaints in this area are counted by the county. They are available as public records. I challenge readers to demand that information from the county and then observe how few complaints over the last four years have been directed at wineries and special events.

The heart of this matter is the enormous expense generated by these initiatives that, along with terrible budgeting, has put our county on the financial edge. Supervisor Steve Lavagnino shined light on this disaster in the last BOS hearing on STRs, when he outlined how much tax was collected from STRs. He did not mention the deferred maintenance and huge pension fund liabilities whose can has been kicked down the road.

I urge readers to follow these county shenanigans closely. When they produce the inevitable “crash,” we will all be on the hook. In fact, you can start writing the check now.

Lee Rosenberg

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