Every 20 years or so, cities update their general plans to set a vision for their futures. The City of Santa Maria has been working for the last three years on its next General Plan update.

On Nov. 7, the City Council will consider a recommendation from its staff, consultants and Planning Commission regarding a land-use scenario to guide the development of the final plan (Item 13.a).

Rather than introducing new communities, new roadways and infrastructure, the City Council should prioritize strengthening and investing in Santa Maria from within and preserving agriculture that our community depends on.

Three scenarios for the general plan were initially considered.

Alternative A focused on annexing new agricultural land to the west and east of the existing city limits (annexation only).

Alternative B avoided annexation and aimed to meet the needs for more housing and jobs within the existing city (infill only).

Alternative C proposed a hybrid approach with annexations to the east (800 acres of mostly prime ag land) and more intense growth within the city (annexation and infill).

At its Sept. 6 meeting, the Planning Commission’s recommendation was to adopt a modification of the hybrid approach that would add another 200 acres of prime ag land to the annexation proposal.

The city should not base its plan on the idea that it will annex and build on 1,000 acres of valuable farmland. These lands are some of the most productive anywhere and are essential to Santa Maria’s economy.

According to the city’s own survey, Alternative B is more in line with what residents of Santa Maria want out of future growth in the city.

Alternative B performs better when it comes to both retail and transit access, walkability and community engagement within the city.

Alternatives A and C would cause urban-rural impacts such as potential for nuisance odors and pesticide drift, as well as more air pollution from increased traffic along Highway 101.

Alternative B would reduce overall vehicle use while Alternatives A and C would cause increases of CO2 per capita of 9% and 7%, respectively, due to increased miles of travel.

Infill (Alternative B) stands out as the sole alternative that contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. By prioritizing infill development, the city can mitigate climate change and safeguard the environment for future generations.

Santa Maria has a fiscal responsibility to meet the needs of its community. Alternative B has the potential to generate higher revenue compared to the hybrid version, allowing additional funds to be reinvested into the community.

Adopting Alternative B (infill) would allow the city to meet its housing demand with a greater excess than Alternatives A or C. This aligns with the city’s urgent need for more housing.

According to the fiscal analysis, Alternative B “is estimated to have a positive fiscal impact on the city’s General Fund at full buildout in 2050” and again “is estimated to have a positive fiscal impact on the city’s General Fund during each five-year period from 2020 to 2050.”

The City of Lompoc fought for more than 20 years to annex some 200 acres of prime ag land and was repeatedly denied. The City of Santa Maria would be well advised to not put so many eggs in the annexation basket.

If you would like to protect farmland and agricultural jobs and have a healthier and more walkable environment in the future, please email citycouncil@cityofsantamaria.org and come to the Nov. 7 City Council meeting to urge council members to avoid annexation and invest in our existing city. 

Ken Hough

Santa Barbara County Action Network

Alhan Diaz-Correa

Community Environmental Council

Ken Hough is executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network. The opinions expressed are his own.

Alhan Diaz-Correa is a board member of the Santa Barbara County Action Network and a climate justice associate for the Community Environmental Council. The opinions expressed are his own.