SBCAG puts brakes on transportation, communities plan

Published on July 19th, 2013

Board wants more information on 30-year development blueprint

July 19, 2013
By Brian Bullock
Lompoc Record

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) put the brakes on a blueprint for county transportation and development Thursday, asking for more time to review the plan, its environmental impact report and public comment on both documents.

The board members asked SBCAG staff to slow down its efforts to meet the state’s August deadline for approval so they could take a closer look at both the Regional Transportation Plan and Sustainable Communities Strategy (RTP-SCS). Thursday was the public hearing on the documents for the North County. The South County will get its turn to comment Aug. 1.

SBCAG staff had hoped to get plan and strategy approved at the board’s Aug. 15 meeting, but those plans might be derailed.

“I don’t think a couple of weeks is enough time,” said Director Peter Adam, who was elected the county’s 4th District supervisor in November, close to two years after the project began. “This is a big deal and I think we have to take our time and do it right if we’re going to do it.”

The plan and strategy provides a long-range look — 30 years — at Santa Barbara County’s transportation needs, expected state funding and proposed projects that will meet those needs. And this year, thanks to Senate Bill 375, the state requires a regional land-use plan that will show how each jurisdiction in the county will meet projected population increases.

SB 375, also known as the Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act of 2008, requires the Air Resources Board to develop regional greenhouse gas emission reduction targets, which include community housing and transportation plans. Both the transportation plan and communities strategy are designed to help the state reach its AB 32 goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The county’s RTP-SCS attempts to address several transportation, housing and employment issues in the county that lead to greenhouse gas emissions. They include a jobs-housing mismatch in which there is little affordable housing near the major employers which results in long distance commutes for employees.

The mismatch has approximately 8,700 North County residents commuting to the South Coast for work.

The draft RTP-SCS proposes to focus on improving job growth in the North County where jobs are lacking, and providing affordable housing on the South Coast where rent and mortgage costs are astronomically high.

SBCAG staff began working on the project in September 2010. Deputy Director Peter Imhof said the draft RTP-SCS and its accompanying environmental impact report are the result of meetings with more than 40 stakeholder groups, a series of public workshops and two public hearings to take public comment on the draft plans and the EIR.

At the public hearing for the draft plan and EIR held in June, only one person — Marilyn DeYoung of Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) — offered comment.

Several individuals, groups and organizations have delivered written comments to SBCAG, but those comments have not yet been made available to the board members.

On Thursday, representatives of Santa Barbara Community Action Network, Grower-Shipper Association of Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo Counties, Community Environmental Council, the city of Guadalupe and Urban Planning Concepts all commented on the plan and most supported it.

Several representatives of the county’s eight cities weren’t quite as positive about it, mostly because of the land planning element.

Guadalupe City Administrator Andrew Carter questioned how his city could support a plan that could limit future annexation of farm land when they are surrounded by it. Guadalupe Mayor and SBCAG board member Frances Romero agreed.

“I can’t as a mayor of a city tell my community you have zero chance to grow,” Romero said.

Fifth District county Supervisor Steve Lavagnino, Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino and Lompoc Mayor John Linn all expressed similar misgivings about supporting a land use document that has the ability to lock their cities into 30-year growth plans.

Lavagnino feared that an approved plan could become law “with the stroke of a pen” from somebody in Sacramento.

They also expressed concern that if the plans aren’t followed it could endanger approximately $7.4 billion in transportation revenues the county expects to receive over the next 27 years. The plan extends to 2040.

Imhof said the elements in the Sustainable Communities Strategy aren’t set in stone and aren’t binding. He said that deviation from the strategy by cities hasn’t prevented them from receiving state transportation project funding.

The consensus of the board was to have SBCAG staff provide members with written public comments on the RTP-SCS, along with staff’s response, and allow more time for them to review the new material. The board will meet again on Aug. 1 to get public comments from South Coast residents and members of the Joint Technical Advisory Committee, and then meet again on Aug. 15 to either approve the plan or continue discussing it in September.

“I don’t think any of us wants to throw out the baby with the bath water,” Linn said. “We just want some fresh bath water.”

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