To split or not to split will be the question discussed tonight, as the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) hosts a public forum to discuss dividing the county in half.

The forum will feature county split experts Dave Croff, Don Ward and Mary Ellen Barilotti discussing the pros and cons of the split and answering questions from the audience. The 7 p.m. event will be held at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria.

Mary O’Gorman, executive director of the nonprofit government watchdog group SBCAN, said the debate over dividing Santa Barbara County into separate northern and southern counties originated 30 years ago. O’Gorman said the voters in Santa Barbara County will decide whether or not the county should split in June. She said she thinks it is important for residents of the county to attend the forum in order to learn about the issue.

“The forum will be an opportunity to create a dialogue, bringing different sides together on an issue,” O’Gorman said. “As a UCSB alum myself, UCSB students are just as impacted. … staying informed about what’s going on is a good idea.”

O’Gorman said many north county residents are farmers who feel their agricultural needs are not being addressed by the Board of Supervisors.

3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said he does not support splitting the county, although he often supports the sentiments expressed by north county residents. He said dividing the counties would create an estimated $30 million deficit for the north county, because the south county currently brings in 70 percent of the county’s revenues.

“The split would be a financial disaster for both halves,” Firestone said.

Joe Centeno, 5th District Supervisor, said he supports dividing the county because his constituents in the north county feel that the supervisors have not responded to their requests for certain policy changes.

“Individuals feel like nothing much has changed – we are just a different community from the south,” Centeno said.

O’Gorman, who will serve as moderator for the forum, said the Board of Supervisors historically supports the south county because there are more supervisors on the board who represent that part of Santa Barbara.

“Historically, and up through the present, it all boils down to who has the most representatives on the Board of Supervisors,” O’Gorman said.

The split would likely cause tax increases for Santa Barbara, Firestone said. He said he does not think dividing the county would greatly affect UCSB, however.

“It would make Santa Barbara a more expensive place to run,” Firestone said. “But I don’t think it’s a big thing for the students. …UCSB will continue happily along.”

According to, the split would create a new county called Mission County. Mission County would encompass 1,434 square miles and would include the cities of Santa Maria, Lompoc, Buellton, Solvang, Los Alamos, Sisquoc, Casmalia, New Cuyama and Lake Cachuma. Santa Barbara County would then be reduced to 1,314 square miles, and would include Santa Barbara, Goleta, Isla Vista, Carpinteria, Summerland, Montecito, Hope Ranch and the Channel Islands.

Centeno said he thinks anyone interested in the welfare of Santa Barbara County should attend the forum because voters will decide whether or not to split the county.

“I’d like to see the voters take responsibility to look at all the facts and make the best decision for themselves and their families,” Centeno said.