Archive » December 20, 2012
A long look back and a peek ahead
By Jeremy Foster, Staff Writer
Well, it’s that time of the year again to look back over the last 12 months, and I’m asked to think about what comes to mind.
Compared with the running national story, Santa Barbara County’s doesn’t look nearly as grim. Far too many Americans have been spun into existential crises over the ending run of that train wreck called “Jersey Shore.” But how many people think about the hell that Hurricane Sandy bore down on the Northeast more than seven weeks ago?
One thing is clear: 2012 was marked by entertainment and punctuated by tragedy. By now, everyone knows about the latest – a Connecticut school shooting on Dec. 14 that left 20 children and six women dead. One hopes that out of this calamity, more and more people are hugging their loved ones and putting aside petty differences that had separated them.
After months of campaigning and billions of dollars spent, President Obama won a second term as president, reportedly leaving challenger Mitt Romney in disbelief. Obama returns to office in a bitterly polarized political climate with a fiscal cliff looming. Some might remember country star Hank Williams Jr. comparing Obama to “Hitler.” He justified his remark by saying we’re polarized as a nation. He was right about the second part. We are polarized; but when have we not been? In 1804, sitting Vice President Aaron Burr killed the former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton in a duel over longstanding political and personal bitterness. Sure, times have changed (politicians now rely on attack ads and press releases instead of bloody encounters), but politics has always been ugly, even if much of it is a boilerplate.
Could it be that with the advent of the Internet, Americans of different political stripes have finally found a forum to talk politics without ruining dinner and dessert? When I was growing up, pundits were relegated to talk radio. Now they’re seemingly in every basement across America, posting blogs and uploading Youtube videos.
The populations of Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia and modern-day North Korea look to be in lock-step, literally. Proof of how out of lock step we are is that both parties have gamely decided to play a game of chicken with the fiscal cliff with the hopes that, in the end, the other side will have less on the bargaining table.
At the county level, the Board of Supervisors did not change its political makeup with the re-election of 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr. During the board’s last regular meeting, 1st District Supervisor Salud Carbajal lamented that some people pit the Northern and Southern areas of the county against each other. “It’s so easy to play those silly games and not do the people’s work,” he said. Yet the word “politics” comes from the classical Greek root form “politic,” which derives from "polites," or in English, citizen. Separating politics from public policy, at least from my vantage, looks as realistic as separating TMZ from celebrities.
However, as the board tries to avoid politics, it welcomes a self-proclaimed Tea Party Republican in Peter Adam behind the dais. The fifth-generation Santa Marian pulled the biggest upset this year by unseating Joni Gray in the 4th district supervisorial race in the November election. Gray, who had held her seat since 1998, was plagued by her connection to the scandal surrounding the low-income housing Lompoc Housing and Community Development Corporation. The “non-profit” group had not produced routine financial statements for official scrutiny since 2006 and after problems surfaced, some shelters closed.
Last February the county agreed to conduct a forensic audit of LHCDC, and the Lompoc City Council, also tasked with oversight of the corporation, promised to revamp its oversight protocols and to help the county with its audit of the corporation.
In June, despite a call from the county’s Chief Executive Officer Chandra Wallar to find long-term solutions to the county’s budget woes, the Board of Supervisors patched a $15 million budget deficit through one-time fixes. Since the Great Recession, the board has had to come to grips with the painful reality of cuts in county services.
The board did lasso the once-fleeting plan to build and operate a new North County jail. In October, board members tentatively accepted a state award toward construction of the $96.1 million, 376-bed jail, which will require the county to match 10%, or $8.8 million. Sheriff Bill Brown applied for the grant in January and secured a boon offered to 11 counties vying for a share in $602 million in funding from the state under AB 900, which passed in 2008 to reduce overcrowding in jails.
Brown estimates that the new jail will break ground in July 2015 and open in March 2018 on a 50-acre parcel at Black Road and Betteravia Road near Santa Maria.
Divided by ideology, the Board of Supervisors in February could not muster four-fifths support to place an oil production tax before voters last November. Oil producers in Santa Barbara County pay $2.44 a barrel in fees and taxes. The proposed tax increase would have increased that amount by 60 cents to $1 per barrel, garnering more than $2 million in revenue for the county.
The county continues mulling its winery ordinance. The outcome of action could decide whether tasting rooms, parties, weddings and other special events are suitable or unsuitable commercial uses on agriculturally zoned land. In a blow to opponents of the proposed development at Naples on the Gaviota Coast, Superior Court Judge Thomas Anderle in August shot down an effort by environmentalists to rescind the county’s approval of a 71-home development proposal. Because the county divided the inland and coastal portions of the venture, this ruling only affects the inland part of the project, north of Highway 101, he noted.
Because a consortium, SBRHC Inc., dropped its plan to purchase the property, the fate of the Naples land is uncertain.
The Buellton City Council considered serious cuts to law enforcement services to balance its budget but managed to salvage most services. Nevertheless, the city’s substation was switched to a twice-a-week operation and a community resource deputy position was eliminated.
Last week, the Buellton City Council appointed Judith Dale mayor of the city and congratulated outgoing councilman Dave King for his service. He will be replaced by newcomer Leo Elovitz.
Council members hope to make progress on the city’s vision plan, which will revitalize the downtown area, especially the Avenue of Flags. In March, the council agreed that the city should start with a focus on economic development and branding.
The Solvang City Council adopted a $13.4 million budget. The council decided to balance the general fund of about $6 million by using $156,000 from reserves and spending $153,000 to balance spending in the city’s Water Fund. The city also celebrated former two-term Solvang mayor Ken Palmer, who chose not to run for re-election this year. Palmer will be replaced by former councilman Ed Skytt.
Measure L, the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District bond proposition, failed at the ballot box; however, the success of Proposition 30, which will stop nearly $6 billion in “trigger cuts” to education, left superintendent Paul Turnbull both “pleasantly surprised” and concerned.
Prop 30 will keep education revenue level by slightly raising the sales tax and by increasing the income tax for high-earners. Turnbull called the measure a “deal with the devil” because it only continues a “drastically lower level of funding that the schools are owed.”
Measure L, which fell short of 50% by three percentage points, would have authorized the school district to borrow $19,840,000 to replace deteriorating roofs, upgrade inadequate electrical and plumbing systems, improve student access to computers and technology, and modernize outdated classrooms and facilities, as well as replace old heating, ventilation and cooling systems.
The passage of Prop 30 spares the district of $261,327 in additional cuts this year, but ongoing state cuts mean the district will have to make major reductions.
The fate of the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians’ request to expand the liquor license at the casino hotel and resort will soon be decided by an administrative law judge. In October, the judge heard testimony from tribal representatives and protestors of the application.
In May 2010, the tribe informed ABC that it intended to expand the casino liquor license for the Willows Restaurant to cover the Creekside Buffet on the third floor, the 15,000 square-foot Samala Showroom on the second and the nearby hotel. The tribe plans to drop its “type 70” license that allows the nearby hotel to serve alcohol in two private meeting rooms through room service or mini-bars. There also would be some restrictions in the license, including one that would require the Samala Room to use 80% of the floor for dining purposes when serving alcohol.
Democrat Lois Capps will enter her eighth term, after defeating challenger Abel Maldonado in the November election. She will return to the House of Representatives where Republicans have controlled the chamber since the 2010 midterm election.
Twenty-five year House veteran Elton Gallegly, 67, announced his retirement in January.
First elected to the House in 1986, the Republican congressman has been re-elected at consistently high margins. Prior to that, he served on Simi Valley’s city council and became the area’s first mayor. Before entering politics, he majored in education at California State University, Los Angeles, for a year. He opened a real estate brokerage, and in the span of five years he created dozens of jobs, prompting local business leaders to encourage him to run for public office.
Despite widespread community opposition, Caltrans intends on moving ahead on a Highway 154/246 roundabout in Santa Ynez. The project is expected to cost $3.5 million and is expected to be completed by March 2015. Round and round the spending goes; whether it stops in 2013, nobody knows.