Re-Considering Home Rule for Montecito

By Bob Hazard   |   May 31, 2018

In 1991, the residents of Montecito engaged in a heated debate, turning down a vote for cityhood by fewer than 100 votes. Every 10 years or so, the debate over home rule rises again. Advocates believe that local knowledge of local needs allows communities that are self-governing to better plan their own future, to control their own affairs, to set local priorities, and to make local government more efficient, accountable, and responsible.

The recent efforts of citizen Abe Powell and his volunteer Bucket Brigade gives credence to the theory that local involvement can help do a job that government resists, and at a fraction of the cost. The combination of volunteer workers and locally purchased services helped ensure that every dollar collected was spent more wisely.

Opponents argue that home rule will ruin Montecito, that it will raise property taxes, lead to a loss of zoning control, destroy our semi-rural community character, create parking meters, lead to a deluge of affordable housing, and bury our community in legal liabilities. In other words, it’s a bad idea, so why bring it up again? 

Who Would Benefit

Nearly 80% of California’s 38.3 million residents live in the 482 incorporated towns and cities which have voluntarily chosen home rule to govern themselves and determine the course of their own destiny. Unfortunately, Montecito is among the disenfranchised minority, always on the outside looking in, begging for the benevolence of those who sit in the seats of power in the county and the state.

Today, Montecito’s only elected representative is Santa Barbara County 1st District supervisor Das Williams, who represents Carpinteria; Summerland; Mission Canyon; and the Eastside, Westside, Riviera, San Roque, downtown, and waterfront areas of the City of Santa Barbara, as well as Montecito.

Understandably, Williams’s primary priority is not Montecito but balancing the needs of all his constituents. I believe that to effectively plan the future of Montecito, we need local leadership whose first priority is to protect, preserve, and enhance our semi-rural residential lifestyle and the personal safety and security of our 8,995 residents.

Is Home Rule an Advantage?

The eight municipalities that have adopted home rule in Santa Barbara County comprise more than 68% of the county’s population. All incorporated cities and towns control their own affairs to the fullest extent possible.

Town Name Year of Incorporation Population 2010 County

Buellton 1992 4,828 Santa Barbara

Solvang 1985 5,245 Santa Barbara

Guadalupe 1946 7,080 Santa Barbara

Montecito No Home Rule 8,965 Santa Barbara

Carpinteria 1965 13,040 Santa Barbara

Goleta 2002 29,888 Santa Barbara

Lompoc 1888 42,434 Santa Barbara

Santa Barbara 1850 88,410 Santa Barbara

Santa Maria 1905 99,553 Santa Barbara

An Organized Voice

In planning for widening Highway 101, Montecito has had no seat at the decision-making table. SBCAG (Santa Barbara County Association of Governments), the decision-maker, is made up of 13 voting members: the five County supervisors, plus the mayors from each of the County’s eight incorporated towns and cities. This same group divvies up county money for local road construction, repair, and maintenance. That means that tiny Buellton (4,825 residents), Solvang (5,245 residents), and Guadalupe (7,080 residents), all have more transportation decision-making clout than Montecito with its 8,995 residents.

Coast Village Road Congestion

The unfortunate closure of the southbound 101 on-ramp at the Cabrillo Blvd/Hot Springs intersection was the result of negotiations between Caltrans and the former mayor of Santa Barbara, Helene Schneider, and her city transportation guru, Rob Dayton.

The city demanded extravagant local improvements to the 101 Milpas interchange, which gobbled up the precious funding needed to keep the southbound 101 on-ramp at Cabrillo open and operating, punishing Montecito with massive gridlock on Coast Village Road, Hot Springs Road, and other local streets.

The Beggar at the Table

The City of Santa Barbara recently posted a permit application to replace the Union Pacific Railroad overpass at Cabrillo Boulevard, build new pedestrian pathways, introduce a new roundabout at Cabrillo and Los Patos Way adjacent to the Andrée Clark bird refuge, and build new bike paths. Meanwhile, Montecito has no official role in negotiating mainline Caltrans funding to widen the 101 overpass and on-off ramps at the dangerous San Ysidro interchange, to bring it to current standards, or to rebuild the Cabrillo or Olive Mill interchanges.

Without designated SBCAG representation, Montecito carries the weight of a cork anchor in 101 decision-making. The City of Carpinteria, with a seat at the table, has negotiated added 101 funding for new, wider bridges, re-engineered on-off ramps, wider freeways, new bicycle paths, and local street and flood improvements. Montecito sits alone, an irrelevant partner, holding out its tin cup, begging for scraps of funding as the last-in-line for 101 widening. 

An Official Voice

The January 9 debris flow again demonstrated the weakness of an absence of local governance in Montecito. While County and State officials deserve high praise for both their rescue and recovery efforts, Montecito has had no official voice in evacuation planning, private and public mud designations, mud and debris removal on private property, retention of the Army Corps of Engineers, “extreme risk” or “high risk” community designations, FEMA mapping, installation of temporary Caltrans bridges on 192, long-term flood control mitigation, private property re-building, priorities and future funding, and infrastructure repair and modifications.

Had this same twin disaster event devastated the cities of Santa Barbara, Goleta, or Carpinteria, they would have received the same compassion, rescue and recovery support as Montecito, but would also have had an official voice in how that money was allocated and spent.

California’s Affluent Communities

Of the most affluent towns or cities in California, nearly all have adopted home rule. In order of population, these include:

Town Name Year of Incorporation Population 2010 County

Hidden Hills 1961 1,856 Los Angeles

Belvedere Island 1896 2,068 Marin

Ross 1908 2,415 Marin

Carmel-by-the-Sea 1916 3,722 Monterey

Portola Valley 1964 4,353 San Mateo

Indian Wells 1967 4,958 Riverside

Woodside 1956 5,287 San Mateo

Atherton 1923 6,914 San Mateo

Los Altos Hills 1956 7,922 Santa Clara

Tiburon 1964 8,962 Marin

Montecito No Home Rule 8,965 Santa Barbara

Hillsborough 1910 10,825 San Mateo

Half Moon Bay 1959 11,324 San Mateo

Malibu 1991 12,645 Los Angeles

Pales Verdes Estates 1939 13,438 Los Angeles

Mill Valley 1900 13,903 Marin

Rancho Mirage 1973 17,218 Riverside

Laguna Beach 1927 22,723 Orange

Dana Point 1989 33,351 Orange

Beverly Hills 1914 34,109 Los Angeles

Morgan Hill 1906 37,882 Santa Clara

Cupertino 1955 58,302 Santa Clara

Laguna-Niguel 1989 62,979 Orange

Mountain View 1902 74,066 Santa Clara

Napa 1872 79,915 Napa

Newport Beach 1906 85,186 Orange

Santa Monica 1886 89,736 Los Angeles

Revenue Neutrality

The 2,000-pound gorilla hindering incorporation of new towns in California is the imposition of “revenue neutrality.” Instead of self-determination being the driving principle, the welfare of County budgets has become the overriding factor. Revenue neutrality means that the incorporating town (Montecito) only gets to keep the amount of revenue that the County was spending in the area prior to incorporation, not the amount of revenue generated within the area.

Time to Rethink Cityhood

People ask me all the time, “Are you in favor of home rule for Montecito?” The answer is, “I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.” However, I strongly advocate that the time is right to do the necessary homework needed to make an informed judgment of the costs and benefits of home rule for Montecito.

The story of Montecito has historically been a tale of too little, too late. We were too late to install sewers on Coast Village Road in 1960, so we lost our primary business district to the City of Santa Barbara. We were too foolish to widen the 101 in 1992, out of a fear we might lose our parkway look.

We rejected cityhood in 1991 when it was narrowly defeated at the polls. Is there any value in taking another look? What are your thoughts?


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