Using people as a buffer not a good idea

Santa Maria planning commissioners said “no” to new senior housing and “yes” to employment-generating land-use designations in a recent straw poll.

In an informal request by Coastal Community Builders, commissioners were asked whether they would be in favor of changing the zoning on part of Area 9, a total of 884 acres between A Street and Black Road, and between Betteravia Road and the railroad tracks.

The city spent years preparing for annexation of Area 9 and determining what land uses would be permitted. It was pre-zoned in 2003 for industry and manufacturing, then annexed in 2004. The purpose was to provide industrial sites to help meet the need for large industrial and agricultural industrial space over the long term.

The hope was that Area 9 would encourage economic development by creating substantial, high-paying employment opportunities through industrial uses, office and professional complexes, and research and development parks. This could provide sufficient land for large and small businesses well into the future.

The fear was the city would have little or no industrial land available for the next decade or two, making it a permanent bedroom community to San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara.

Why should we care?

Because the way a community is planned determines what it will become for decades into the future.

We’re not prepared to take a stand on whether the proposed housing should be allowed in Area 9, but we can see the potential for problems there.

When residential units are placed next to industrial areas, there will be conflicts. We saw this recently in this area when residents saw a recycling business move in nearby. When an area is zoned primarily for industrial uses, including manufacturing and agricultural-supporting uses, housing may not be the best development to include in the mix. Indeed, the project applicant’s representatives suggested the new residential development could serve as a buffer between industry and the existing neighborhoods across A Street to the east.

When is it ever a good idea to use people as a buffer? A multi-acre park could be a buffer. A greenbelt could be a buffer. Or what is currently zoned, commercial and professional offices.

But not people in their homes.

Oil development is another issue. It is an allowed use of the area, and the project applicant acknowledges the potential conflicts.

“With concerns over oil development in Area 9, additional residences may aid in deterring future oil and gas production,” states a letter from the applicant’s representatives, addressed to neighbors to the east.

Instead of building in opposition to oil production, why don’t we just eliminate oil production as an allowed use in Area 9 - or in the whole city for that matter?

By the way, whatever happened to the idea of a greenbelt around the city? During discussions about the planning of Area 9, former Councilwoman Hilda Zacarias stated preservation of the greenbelt and urban lines was important to her. No one talks about a greenbelt now. Why not?

In this case, commissioners sided with Community Development Director Larry Appel, who strongly argued against introducing more residential units that could create more conflict with the area’s designation as a job-generating area.

The issue is scheduled to go before the City Council for feedback on Nov. 5. Maybe council members will feel the same way as the commissioners, or maybe not. Either way, we should be informed and let our representatives know what our hopes are for our city.

Looking Forward Editorial ran Oct. 11, 2013 in the Santa Maria Times. Ken Hough is executive director of Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). He can be reached at [email protected]. Looking Forward runs every Friday, providing a progressive viewpoint on local issues.