After both my wife and I completed graduate studies in the late ’70s in the Los Angeles area, the question became, “Where should we make our permanent home?” We looked around us in the LA area at the hubbub of traffic and the mass of individuals in close proximity to us in the LA suburbs and it was not a pleasant picture or thought for our future. We both had grown up in the beauty and solitude of North Santa Barbara County in areas devoid of smog and the clamor of uncontrolled growth. We were blessed with the fact that both of our families had chosen the Central Coast to make a home for us in our formative years. These factors helped make our decision to move back to our original area an easy decision. I can remember the relief of stress as we drove out of the clamor of LA and into the then open spaces of Santa Barbara County for the final time as we made it our permanent home.
Today, the city of Santa Maria and other coastal communities are assessing the need for growth. Those experts with their fingers in the pot contend that growth is necessary to fund future city needs, but those experts are the ones with the most to gain from unlimited growth in terms of salary and tenure. Looking around us today, we have massive traffic congestion with near gridlock conditions from the growth that has occurred since the 1970s. We are starting to get the feel of Los Angeles County in terms of growth, population, and traffic. Our area is now at a crossroads, and it’s time for all citizens to step back and take a deep breath and visualize the future we want for our children, county, and our cities. The recently approved Enos Ranch Development will just about max out all the remaining available land for development within the city limits of Santa Maria. Planners using the dubious argument of a larger and larger tax base are now eagerly looking eastward toward farmlands to gobble up what should be preserved for our main economic engine—farming.
Years ago the state of California created commissions called the Local Agency Formation Commission to work with all interested parties in each county on issues of annexation and jurisdiction. But this commission (LAFCO) to protect our open spaces needs massive public pressure to act in our best interest. Now is not the time for citizens to sit idly by watching uncontrolled growth driven by city and county planners, but it’s the time for us to send letters and it’s time for us all to speak up loudly at LAFCO meetings and all city and county meetings to stop the gobble, gobble of cities eating up open spaces and valuable farmland. The city might be better served by placing its effort on encouraging the replacement of existing older residential and commercial buildings within the city. Uncontrolled growth also uses more water.
One needs only to look southward to see the results of uncontrolled growth with every nook and cranny filled in with people, asphalt, buildings, and autos. Water in earlier years was not a concern as the quagmire continued to grow producing smog, traffic snarls, and shoulder-to-shoulder living conditions. But since earlier time periods with our changing climate, water is now a major issue and scarce commodity with massive growth being planned in our county. We need to consider our limited supply of water with every major decision. We also need to ask ourselves do we really want the same environment and to live like the poor folks in Los Angeles?
We have been blessed in North County with large water aquifers under our valleys, but these unfortunately are refilled from unreliable sources. State water is only available if adequate snow melt exists in Northern California, and Twitchell Reservoir which collects water from the dry Cuyama Valley has sat empty for numerous years as have other county lakes and storage basins. Now in the middle of drought conditions, as we all are asked to curtail our water use, this is not the time to approve massive developments such as Enos Ranch or to approve the eastward expansion of the city of Santa Maria. However, it is the logical time for the city of Santa Maria to engage in a dialogue with farmers, other cities, the county of Santa Barbara, and all interested parties for the planning and construction of a Central Coast desalination plant that will provide a sound economic basis and a reliable future source of water for us all.
Ken McCalip is a North Santa Barbara County native who holds bachelor and doctorate degrees in history, cultural geography, and law from various California universities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.