Bob Keats, the founder of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy, made a rather good point recently regarding a national seashore designation for the Gaviota Coast. In response to opponents of a seashore designation, he said that we have been working to save the Gaviota Coast since 1991 and in that time no one has come up with a better idea for saving the resources of the coast.
One of the greatest fears regarding the possible establishment of a national seashore has to do with its to induce growth. In my view, a national seashore will not only limit development, but also ultimately do more to prevent development that anything yet proposed. The potential for “growth” already exists. Since the population of California is predicted to double in very few years, does anyone honestly believe that Santa Barbara County will not experience significant development pressures over the next decades?
Some residents suggest that the way to save the Gaviota Coast is through a (Ventura County-like) SOAR initiative. SOAR stands for “Save Our Agricultural Resources.” While a SOAR initiative is helpful, it cannot guarantee that development won’t take place on the Gaviota Coast. The Ventura model has a 20-year life span. While some development would require a vote of the people, the balance of power in Santa Barbara County is moving toward the north county. North county voters could be convinced that a resort (for example) on the Gaviota Coast is a good thing.
Others see “easements” as the answer. Easements are a good tool, but have severe limitations. To begin with, the sale of easements is voluntary. Secondly, easements do not guarantee comprehensive protection of the resources on the Gaviota Coast. The Santa Barbara Land Trust has been working for over four years to educate landowners on the Gaviota Coast about the benefits of easements. In that time, they have secured exactly one easement. The Trust for the Public Lands has also gone to great lengths to save land on the Gaviota Coast only to find that they are either second in line or outbid.
Yet another suggestion is to ban water hookups west of Winchester Canyon. Any attempt to ban water hookups would undoubtedly run into considerable opposition from people like Jack Morehart, who has rights to a considerable amount of state water. In the absence of hookups, who is to stop a developer of ranchettes, for example, from sinking a well or applying for a permit to desalinate ocean water?
Perhaps one of the best alternatives I’ve seen is the establishment of a solid “urban limit line,” such as that adopted by Portland, Oregon. The urban limit line in Portland has managed to effectively control urban sprawl outside of Portland. Unfortunately, in order for it to work on the Gaviota Coast, a solid urban limit line would have to be adopted by every city in the region. Undesirable growth and development can come from any direction. There is actually talk of creating a city at Naples. Cities are natural “growth machines.” Does anyone believe that Santa Maria, for example, is ready to adopt a solid urban limit line? I wouldn’t want to bet on it. Finally, can urban limit lines stand up to challenges by government agencies when, as Bill Wallace used to say, most of the laws and regulations governing development on the coast can be changed any Tuesday by a vote of the Board of Supervisors. Dang, I think Bob was right.
Nathan Post is a Santa Barbara resident