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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 8th, 2020, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 21, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 21, Issue 6

Two Solvang residents are leading a campaign to establish an urban growth boundary for the city

By ZAC EZZONE

When it came time to start knocking on doors to collect signatures for a hoped-for ballot measure, two Solvang residents have had to rethink their method. 

Susan Bott and Nancy Emerson are leading a campaign called Save Our Solvang, through which they’re gathering support for a November ballot measure to give residents a vote on future expansion of city limits. But because of COVID-19 and social distancing, Bott and Emerson have taken to email to get the signatures they need before the end of the month. 


PREVENTING SPRAWL
Two residents behind a campaign called Save Our Solvang are pushing for an urban growth boundary that will give voters a say in any city expansion.
FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM

Their idea is to establish an urban growth boundary for the city, which would require that most proposed land annexation outside of the city limits would require voter approval. The two have been working with the Environmental Defense Center, which is helping them with the legal technicalities of placing a measure on the ballot.

To create this ballot measure, Bott and Emerson need to collect the signatures of 10 percent of the city’s registered voters. The city, which has a population close to 6,000, has more than 3,500 registered voters, so they need to collect 365 signatures, Bott said.

Initially, they planned to do this by knocking on doors or approaching people near community hubs, such as grocery stores, but with social-distancing guidelines in place, this process has become more difficult. 

Bott said she’s shifted her signature-collecting method by reaching out to people with email addresses on a list of registered voters from the Santa Barbara County Elections Office. Given the various deadlines they have to meet to get the item on the November ballot, Bott said they’re asking people to sign the petition by April 27.

Bott said the effort to create this urban growth boundary began shortly after the city abandoned its previous annexation study two years ago. Bott and Emerson led an informal signature-gathering effort at the time. 

“Increasing the size of our town would be something that affects not only Solvang, but the whole [Santa Ynez] valley,” Bott said. “You go through Solvang to get from one end of the valley to the other.”

According to the city’s study—which was presented to the council during its meeting on Feb. 26, 2018—the city began considering land parcels to purchase and develop in 2015 as a way to maximize its local tourism economy. 

“The city’s economic development strategy recommends that the city explore the feasibility of annexation(s) to expand Solvang’s commercial development options as a means of leveraging the demand for tourist-serving businesses in the Santa Ynez Valley,” the study states.

The study reviewed options for the city to annex about 384 acres of land located to the west and northeast. Currently, the city consists of about 1,970 acres. 

“What Solvang was proposing would have destroyed some of the greenbelt area, and would also have changed the gateways to Solvang significantly,” Emerson said. “It would have looked like any town, rather than this lovely town in an agricultural setting.”

During the meeting where the council reviewed the study, it unanimously voted to abandon the proposed annexation after numerous residents spoke out against it. Bott and Emerson had collected about 700 signatures from Santa Ynez Valley residents who opposed the project, and while they saw the council’s decision as a victory, they knew it wasn’t a permanent solution.

Solvang city officials declined to comment for this story. Only two City Council members—Mayor Ryan Toussaint and Councilmember Karen Waite—served on the council when it voted on the land annexation study. Toussaint made the motion during the February 2018 meeting to abandon the study.

Emerson said 63 cities and counties throughout the state have an urban growth boundary in place, including the city’s nearest municipal neighbor, Buellton. Voters approved an urban growth boundary for Buellton in 2008, after a group of residents—including now 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann—opposed city expansion plans and proposed the boundary. 

City Manager Scott Wolfe—who started working for Buellton in June 2019—said operating with this sort of development restriction in place has its pros and cons. The boundary makes planning a bit easier in the sense that the city knows what space it has to work with. 

“It makes it simple to pay attention to what’s going on in the city here,” Wolfe said. “It’s a degree of certainty that helps with budgeting.”

However, it also limits the city’s ability to respond to certain issues that arise. For example, Wolfe said, the city allows big-rig trucks to park along certain streets overnight, which some residents complain about. This has led to the city discussing the idea of building a truck stop outside of city limits.

Wolfe said he met with a property owner recently who’s potentially interested in having their land annexed into the city for this project. If the property owner and the city move forward with the plans, voters would first have to approve the expansion and then it would go to the Santa Barbara County Local Agency Formation Commission, which is a state-created agency that has to approve local jurisdictions’ boundary changes.

Although urban growth boundaries do allow for essential development to take place without a vote from the residents—including annexing land for schools or state-mandated affordable housing—this hasn’t happened in Buellton. Also, the city has yet to take annexation plans to residents for a vote, which would only require a simple majority to pass.

Along with some exceptions, these growth boundaries have a set time duration unless residents vote to extend the measure. The boundary in Buellton is in place until 2025; however, Wolfe said some residents may be looking to keep it in place a while longer. 

“We’ve heard there is some movement on the part of the organization that originally brought that to the residents that they are looking to extend it,” Wolfe said. “I’m open to talking to them about that, and finding a [middle] ground that doesn’t hamstring the city quite as much.”

Bott and Emerson said they aren’t completely against any development. Instead, they argue, the boundary incentivizes the city to make optimum use out of its existing space, rather than sprawling out into the surrounding countryside. Also, in the event the city does want to annex land, this process allows for more transparency and public participation than what currently takes place.

“If you were a group of landowners who are considered being annexed, that little group of people would have a vote, but not the residents of the city,” Emerson said. “It’s not a very fair process, and you can get some proposals that are not in the best interest of a city.” 

Reach Staff Writer Zac Ezzone at zezzone@santamariasun.com.








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