The city of Lompoc, and presumably Santa Barbara County and other cities within the county, will be amending their general plans to include a state-mandated Environmental Justice Element. Just how much this will cost is an open question, since the public review process for general plan changes can be lengthy.

Several listening sessions, workshops and public hearings will occur prior to approval of this change.

According to the Government Code: “An environmental justice element, or related goals, policies, and objectives integrated in other elements, that identifies disadvantaged communities within the area covered by the general plan of the city, county, or city and county, if the city, county, or city and county has a disadvantaged community.”

To “help” planners, the state clarifies that “Disadvantaged communities” means an area that is disproportionately affected by environmental pollution and other hazards that can lead to negative health effects, exposure, or environmental degradation.

As far as I know Lompoc doesn’t have these issues, but that doesn’t matter because politicians have concluded there is a much greater issue.

Having nothing better to do, our elected representatives in Sacramento reached back to the 1700s to find examples of policies that discriminated against certain ethnic groups. Many of their findings were truly discriminatory when applying today’s standards.

In the preamble to the State of California guidelines for developing this new General Plan Element they report: “In the 1700s, California’s Native American Tribes were the first peoples in the state to experience systemic oppression as Spanish colonizers institutionalized the Mission system and intentionally disrupted tribal culture and environmental stewardship.”

In our area the Chumash once claimed much of Santa Barbara County, and some of Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties as their territory. The state guidelines state:

“In the 1800s, State sponsored policies further dismantled tribes’ relationship with the land.”

Today, they occupy a small reservation in Santa Ynez, and the county government continues to impede their ability to use land that they once “owned” and now are buying back.

In addition to restricting manufacturing processes that could introduce “significant hazards to human health,” which is already a long-standing planning practice in Lompoc, the new guidelines require “promoting more livable communities by expanding opportunities for transit-oriented development so that residents minimize traffic and pollution impacts from traveling for purposes of work, shopping, schools, and recreation.”

This means electric buses and cars, and of course banning fossil fuels including natural gas-fired appliances (home heating, stoves, water heaters, clothes dryers, etc).

I was a member of the Lompoc Planning Commission for several years; during that time several large developments were reviewed and approved, the 2030 General Plan was created, and the Zoning Ordinance was updated for the first time in several decades.

In each of these situations, even though “environmental justice” wasn’t a thing, the major issues identified by these new requirements were already addressed through the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), common sense, and other elements of the General Plan.

So, what will this new requirement accomplish?  According to a staff presentation, some of the topics the element will cover “include but are not limited to: Reduction in air pollution exposure; Food Access; Civic Engagement; Safe and Sanitary Housing; Access to Public Facilities and Services; and Employment.”

This seems to be straying from impacts on the environment, but this is just a “feel-good” exercise at best.

Environmental pollution is somewhat subjective. Could it be that allowing “accessory dwellings” in areas previously designed for single-family dwellings could create environmental pollution because inadequate parking required folks to park on the landscaped areas?

Or, you could say that permitting cannabis-growing operations near residential areas when the permitting authority is aware that the stench associated with this crop will have an adverse impact on the quality of life could be considered environmental pollution.

In the coming weeks and months, the consulting firm hired by the city to prepare this change will undoubtedly blend social changes, anti-fossil fuel language, and otherwise make the cost to build homes and go about our daily lives much higher. 

In the meantime, it’s unlikely these changes will do anything to help state defined-disadvantaged communities unless they plan to return lands to their rightful owners, including Lompoc, seized from the Chumash in the 1800s, and stop harassing them when they want to develop land they own.