A proposal to limit future expansion of Solvang’s city limits for the next 20 years has been adopted after council members decided not to put the item before voters. 

On Monday night, the City Council agreed to approve Save Our Solvang’s urban growth boundary proposal by a 4-to-1 vote, with Councilman Chris Djernaes as the lone opponent.

In making the decision and not changing the proposal, the council decided to bypass putting the item limiting growth of the city limits on the Nov. 3 ballot.

“This is actually a project that many of us had on our (campaign) platforms…,” Councilmember Karen Waite said. “I think this gives us an opportunity to maintain our quaintness without expansion.”

Due to the COVID-19 and after hearing proponents, Waite said she no longer believed it needed to go on the ballot. 

“I think that the majority of our council members are supportive of this initiative and there’s been a lot of work that’s gone into it,” Waite said. “I think the residents have gone beyond showing their support for this.”

Councilmember Robert Clarke said he feared accusations about a lack of transparency by not putting it to voters.

“That’s my only dilemma on this because I do agree with it,” Clarke said.

Djernaes said he did not know enough about the issue and did not feel comfortable moving forward with it.

“It’s not because it’s not a laudable idea, a laudable goal, I just don’t feel comfortable with the way that we’re doing this,” Djernaes said, suggesting the item be put on the ballot or decided by the council in January.

“I don’t want to rush into this,” Djernaes said.

However, City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt said that delaying the item was not an option for the council since Save Our Solvang proposed the item as an initiative. 

Members of the public missed much of the discussion by the Save Our Solvang proponents and public comment letters due to another glitch with Solvang’s livestream during a section of Monday’s council meeting. 

The adoption of the proposal culminates a three-year effort by the citizens’ group seeking to retain Solvang’s small-town, rural atmosphere.

Efforts began to oppose Solvang’s sphere of influence study proposing to expand Solvang’s geographic area by about one-third, “a move which threatened to spur the conversion of important open space and agricultural lands around the city toward sprawling urban development,” according to Save Our Solvang’s Susan Bott.

“In effect for 20 years, the UGB would give developers an incentive to propose well-thought-out projects to gain voter approval,” said Bott, who provided a copy of her written statement she read during the meeting. “It affirms Solvang’s long-standing commitment to preserving the rural character that surrounds the city.” 

She noted the council’s goals for 2019-20 fiscal year included an urban growth boundary.

“The Solvang UGB will not prevent all growth, but rather will allow it to be located appropriately after an affirmative vote of the people,” she added.

Despite the challenge of the global health pandemic, the proponents in early May submitted petitions with 517 signatures, above the required 367 valid signatures for the initiative to qualify for the ballot. County elections officials determined that 499 of the signatures were valid.

“If you would like to accept it as presented, then it becomes the law of the city and it becomes as effective as it would have if the voters were to approve it in November,” City Attorney Chip Wullbrandt said. 

Through Dec. 31, 2040, the law would require that only voters can approve any General Plan amendment changing the city limits.

The cities of Goleta and Buellton also have urban growth boundary regulations.

In Buellton, a pair of competing urban growth boundary ballot measures, Measures E and F, were on the November 2008 ballot with a citizen-initiated effort approved by nearly 69 percent of the voters.

Measure E called for voter approval for expansion outside the city limits or to develop sewer or water services outside the existing city limits. The initiative will be in effect until Dec. 31, 2025.

Measure F, a council-initiated measure that would have placed limits through 2014, was defeated.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.