Contemplating Upcoming MPC Vacancies

Why, given everyone’s passionate concern about governance at the national level, do we apparently care so little about the politics of Montecito’s governance? I raised this subject five weeks ago and I can only guess that my timing was bad – with the Presidential election so close and the economy so bad – but the issue won’t go away.

Montecitans are faced with just such a major governance question right now: The Montecito Planning Commission (MPC), the penultimate authority on planning issues for Montecito, comprised of five members of our community, is about to lose two of those members: its chairman Bob Bierig, and Claire Gottsdanker (whose home was destroyed in the Tea Fire). Commissioner Bierig will be leaving by the end of the year and Commissioner Gottsdanker by next spring or early summer.

“So what?” you say. “Replace them.” you say. Sure, great idea, but how is the question. You may remember that no one in Montecito gets to review, much less vote on, their replacements. As discussed several weeks ago, First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal nominates replacements that are then generally rubber-stamped by the four remaining members of the Board of Supervisors.

I asked Salud about the nomination process to make sure that I represented it properly to the community. According to Salud, the process will be “a 100% open and transparent recruitment.” Salud will actively advertise the job openings with ads and other legal notices, and the first position, Mr. Bierig’s replacement, will open for applications shortly. Salud and the Board of Supervisors hope to make a decision by the end of January. Any resident of Montecito may apply and applications can be picked up through Salud’s office.

Salud went on to explain that there are several criteria he will use to judge each applicant. First, the candidate must “have knowledge of and understand the value and importance of the Montecito Community Plan.” No waffling allowed. In addition, “candidates will be evaluated on a multitude of criteria,” including experience in consensus building, service in the community, and their knowledge and experience in the area of planning and development. There were other less important criteria such as length of residency in Montecito and quality of references. These applications are required in order to get the job and are part of the public record, so any citizen who would like to review them is welcome to do so.

Finally, each candidate will be personally interviewed by Salud. I asked Salud if he would seek input from community leaders and he said “I will consider all input provided to me by the community,” which he has already begun to receive on an unsolicited basis.

So, first of all, anyone interested in either of these positions should call the Clerk of the Board at (805) 568-2240 or Salud’s Office at (805) 568-2186 to get an application and schedule. I would encourage anyone interested in planning in Montecito to apply. Historically, these positions have been filled after a recruitment process unless they are re-appointments of sitting Commissioners, in which case they are submitted to the Board without much fanfare. Unfortunately, the Montecito Community hasn’t always been aware that these changes were on the agenda. But this time, Salud assures me, his office will be encouraging broader participation and a more open process. We welcome that, of course, and think a little diversity among the commissioners would be a healthy thing.

All of this is good: It feels like a change from the past and we applaud Salud’s grace and openness. But the truth is this process has one fatal flaw. At the end of the day the choice of who our next commissioners are will be made in the recesses of Salud’s mind. And while we have learned to respect and appreciate Salud’s protective attitude toward Montecito, it is important to remember that he is not going to be there forever!

What if four years from now, whoever replaces him decides their mandate from the 85% of their constituency that doesn’t live in Montecito is more important than the old promises to the 15% that does? What happens if the next guy believes in affordable housing in Montecito? What happens if he is an aggressive developer? What happens if Salud’s successor decides to tell the Board of Supervisors that the Montecito Planning Commission costs too much money and is unfair to other unincorporated areas of the county and should be disbanded, and the vaunted Montecito Community Plan be folded into the County general plan?

Too far fetched you say? I don’t think so. Just look at the last election if you doubt that radical change can occur in America, much less Montecito.

So here’s the point: Our only protection from an unfriendly First District Supervisor – or, as well, a County with motives that don’t always coincide with ours – is to be in charge of our own destiny, and incorporating the village of Montecito is the only way to do that. We vote on who our commissioners will be; we vote on retaining our community plan; we vote on how to spend $1.5 million in transient occupancy taxes from the Miramar; we vote on decisions about the housing element, and if the people we elect don’t do the job we want, then we vote them out!! How about that? Sounds like America to me.