Residents of Lompoc, Santa Ynez, Santa Maria and Orcutt who want to secede from Santa Barbara County and form their own county began their campaign with a promising start.

A release from Citizens for County Organization (CFCO), the group heading the effort to create the proposed Mission County, stated that in the first six days of signature-gathering, over 2,000 residents of the northern parts of the county lent their names to the cause. Although still far from the 21,000 signatures required to put the issue on the November 2004 ballot, CFCO Chair Jim Diani called the initial surge of signatures “gratifying.”

“We knew from our research that the support was there, but it is exciting to actually see it materialize beyond our expectations,” Diani said. “It’s still early in the game and we have a long way to go, but it’s definitely a good way to start.”

Diani said although he expected the rate of signature collection to level off in the coming weeks, he remained confident the CFCO could collect the appropriate number of signatures in the remaining 26 weeks the group has to do so.

The collection is being organized by the Tartan Group, a Santa Barbara political consulting firm. Diani estimated between 50 and 60 people were working with the Tartan Group in gathering the signatures, including both paid collectors and volunteers. The collectors are working throughout the northern part of the county.

The signature collection process is being charted at the CFCO’s website,