A Wednesday workshop for the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission will dig into potentially major changes that will benefit parks, trails and urban-centric recreational opportunities.
The meeting will be at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria starting at 9 a.m. The Center is located just off Betteravia Road at 511 Lakeside Parkway.
Commissioners will discuss proposed changers to the county’s comprehensive plan and amendments to the zoning ordinances that could incentivize private land owners to include new recreational opportunities in projects they bring to the county.
Among the possibilities include new trails, campgrounds and urban parks that might be impossible to obtain through other means.
Hartmann in the Lead
Third District Supervisor Joan Hartmann has been encouraging the board to find ways to improve access to both active and more passive types of recreation.
For Hartmann, this isn’t just about adding more trails or parks to the county’s inventory.
“I see a very strong link between being outdoors and and healthy living,” she said.
“I believe active living, healthy living and the well being of our community and the outdoors is an important part of that.”
To that end, Hartmann has been an enthusiastic proponent of what she is calling “public benefit projects,” basically the type of public-private partnerships that hopefully will benefit everyone.
The concept is simple: expand allowable uses such as recreation in the Land Use Element; streamline the permitting process for public benefit projects; and flex zoning to provide for uses that otherwise might not be allowed.
Under the conceptual framework being looked at by County Parks and the Planning Department, there could be a complete shift in how new recreation is developed locally.
Community input could be invaluable regarding the best means to achieve that objective.
Though not the focus of the Wednesday meeting, the changes being proposed at the workshop will form a critical part of the county’s newly developing Recreational Master Plan and vision for the future of County Parks.
Look for future discussions on what that vision might look like, and what it means for how recreational management is handled in the coming months.
A Shift from Extraction to Attraction
“If you brought a project to County Planning and they could justify extracting something in return under the under the constitutional law, that’s how of lot of the trail easements or parks were obtained.”
According to Parke, while a lot of good was accomplished using this method, overall he isn’t sure it was that successful.
“Often what we got in return was disjointed, a result more of what could be extracted than from an overall cohesive plan,” he adds.
The better way, he says, is to build from a comprehensive sense of what we want to achieve and then provide the incentives to land owners to help fill in the missing pieces.
“We have to recognize when we assess the need for recreation,” Parke emphasized, “that we need far more recreational facilities and means of recreation than this county can possibly provide on its own.
“There’s not enough money. There’s not enough county workers to do it.
“That’s why it is so important to leverage, not force, incentivizing private recreational development as an important part of fulfilling the community’s recreational needs.”
That could include bike parks, private trails networks in areas such as the Santa Ynez Valley, or similar ventures including the zip lines Highline Adventures has just opened in the Buellton area.
Parke mentioned another spot in the valley that might be perfect for a small campground and farmstay operation, and could be permitted if public access to trails there were included.
He points out another site that might include an equestrian campground along with access to nearby County Park trails in return for more dense or expansive development than what otherwise be allowed.
Leveraging the Housing Element
The public-benefits concept for creating more recreational opportunities isn’t just for rural areas, Parke points out. Through the creation of housing elements, the state requires the county and cities to find land for housing development, including more than 4,000 units in the South Coast area.
That could mean a number of huge new developments. As an example, San Marcos Growers have already submitted a proposal for 996 apartments on its 30-acre property along Hollister Avenue just west of San Marcos High School.
“People are uncomfortable with large projects like these,” Parke says, “especially when those who live nearby see more traffic and more congestion with little or nothing to be gained in return.
“Public benefits,” he continues, “aren’t just for trails, or campgrounds or benefits to land owners in more rural areas. What we’ll be discussing at the Wednesday workshop is just as applicable to meeting recreational opportunities in urban areas as well.”
“We need to make sure that that recreation is applied equally to all segments of our society,” Parke explains to me.
“When it comes to some of the underrepresented people, the underprivileged people, non-white people — I’m not sure we’ve done a good job of providing them with recreational opportunities” he emphasizes.
“Recreation is a lot more than just adding a nice trail across a section of ranch land. We can’t just think about cramming in as much new housing as possible, but do nothing to respond to the need for greater recreational opportunities for those who are already underserved.”
Fitting a Pressing Need
Along with those who may be underserved, Parke notes the need to make sure that we provide recreation for young families to keep them here.
“Young people, young couples don’t necessarily want to mow lawns or care for their landscape anymore,” Parke says. “They would rather have that walkable community than live out in a big tract area, and nearby recreation for their kids.”
Providing incentives for developers such as the San Marcos Growers property could fit perfectly with the county’s need to provide large amounts of new housing. Using extractive means to force recreation onto the developers isn’t workable given the pressures being put on by the state.
Providing an incentives-based system could meet a number of needs: providing a range of opportunities for meeting housing and recreational needs in urban areas; helping allay concerns that people might have by providing them with additional recreation as well; or by providing developers with flexible options and incentivize them to make recreation a much higher priority for their housing projects.
Reaching a Turning Point
This winter and fall marks the turning point in how Santa Barbara County deals with recreation and your recreational needs.
The brainchild of Supervisor Hartmann, the Recreation Master Plan has been years in the making, and a county commitment to treat recreation with the same level of concern and respect that it does to other community marks an important turning point.
Currently two other significant pieces of legislation should be added to the mix this winter, each providing agricultural lands with much more flexibility to offer a variety of small scale recreational opportunities.
The Agricultural Enterprise Ordinance, under public review through Sept. 14, will allow for rural recreational uses including small-scale campgrounds, farmstays, educational experiences, and opportunities on ag-zoned lands.
The second is a Farmstay Ordinance, which will allow farms of 40 or more acres to offer overnight visits that exempt them from more stringent requirements that are typically associated with commercial restaurants.
The capstone will be the finalization of the master plan. With luck by late spring, recreation in Santa Barbara County could have a whole new meaning.
Get more information on the meeting agenda here.
A follow-up workshop will be held on Sept. 27, providing an update on the public input from Wednesday’s session, and giving a chance for additional public input.