The Pros and Cons of Cityhood

Recently, Montecito Journal published an article about the pros and cons of cityhood for Montecito (MJ # 14/13). Last week, it published a letter from Harry Hovey that disparaged much of the information in that article. It is now appropriate to take issue with that letter and lay the groundwork for a reasoned debate about the issues. Hopefully, all the residents of Montecito will decide the issue the old fashioned way: by voting.

1) The letter argued that cityhood would result in more layers of government. Clearly, indisputably, County Government is huge in comparison to any government we could devise for ourselves. It has to deal with over 400,000 people spread from Santa Maria to Carpinteria. To do this, the county employs some 4,200 people! And, the county is run by people who don’t live in Montecito and thus don’t really have our interests at heart. With Montecito cityhood, all those employees go away, replaced by neighbors. Who would you rely on more to act in your interests: the county bureaucracy or your locally elected friends?

It is important to focus on this issue of self-determination and local control. It will be Montecito residents enforcing its Community Plan, not the county planning office. In whose hands will it be better enforced? It will be your elected neighbors, not the County Board of Supervisors, spending your tax dollars, which will remain exactly the same. If Montecito residents want to change zoning, they are free to do so, but they are also free to keep zoning exactly as it is, or make it stricter. That’s democracy. The new Miramar will generate about $1.5 million in new occupancy taxes. Will the County spend that to our benefit? We get to keep it all if Montecito is a city.

2) Hovey claims self interests will take over a Montecito City Council. Of course they will – Montecito’s self interests. What he is really saying is that he fears wealthy developers will somehow get control of a new Montecito City and that County Government is Montecito’s best protection against them. If that’s true, why has the County overruled the MPC so frequently?

3) The letter suggests our goals are suspicious since we have kept our identity a secret. But it is no secret that I have been willing to discuss and explore the issue of cityhood. Our discussions over the last nine months have included a broad spectrum of Montecito residents, including those that oppose cityhood. We believed this was the responsible thing to do. In fact, it is our intention to ask the Montecito Association to moderate several community forums, and if no one wants cityhood, fine; we’ll move on. But we need to remain open to the democratic possibility that a majority of Montecito’s residents might be interested in the local control of their destiny.

4) The comments on the Housing Element are simply incorrect. I spoke with the lead negotiator for the City of Goleta, for example, who confirms that had Goleta been involved in the Santa Barbara Community Area Government (SBCAG) meetings on a more timely basis during the last go-round, their allocation would have been less. As it is, they just got a significant reduction in the current allocation due to their seat at the current SBCAG meetings, which were only made possible by their status as a city. It’s a little bit of a red herring anyway, since the allocations for the unincorporated areas of the county have already been made for the next six years and it looks likely that Montecito will fare very well.

5) As for Coast Village Road (CVR), Hovey believes cityhood will have no impact on it. Others will likely make this same argument. Does he mean, then, that we should do nothing about CVR? We’ve already seen the results of that policy. Without cityhood, we have no standing and nothing will ever change; the City of Santa Barbara will continue to plan any way it wants.

On the other hand, as a City, Montecito would have standing and can sit down with the City of Santa Barbara and try and work out a real solution. I hope the City will be open to this conversation, but at least with Cityhood, we get to have a dialogue about it.

If the cityhood discussion is going to result in reasoned results, we need to step out and look at the issues with fresh eyes. I am asking the Montecito community to do that and I hope you will join us in the process. We look forward to the upcoming community forums and hope to see you there.