A number of locally initiated projects will likely be pushed to the back burner in a proposed Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department work plan as state-mandated and grant-funded programs collide with a staffing shortage.
But the final work plan will ultimately depend on how much money the Board of Supervisors allocates when it finalizes the next fiscal year’s budget in spring.
Efforts to get Coastal Commission approval for coastal resiliency and short-term rental ordinance amendments to the Local Coastal Plan are expected to be put on hold, according to a report to the Planning Commission on the Long Range Planning Division’s work plan.
While the division intends to continue working on other ongoing projects, it’s unlikely the county and commission staff can reach agreement soon on those amendments, so precious staff time will be directed toward other more pressing projects, said Dan Klemann, deputy director of the Long Range Planning Division.
“We have been short-staffed this entire year, but in spite of that, we have been extremely productive,” Klemann told planning commissioners Wednesday as he reviewed the division’s accomplishments.
First District Commissioner Michael Cooney said the accomplishments were “pretty incredible” given the shortage of staff.
“I think this is the most productive year I’ve heard reported in spite of that,” Cooney said.
But even with plans to hire three additional planners and use consultants for some aspects of the work, there still won’t be enough staff to complete all the projects the division is juggling.
“There are a number of state mandates that play a big role in the work program,” explained Klemann, specifically pointing to the Comprehensive Plan’s Environmental Justice Element and Housing Element update, which he said the staff has already started working on with Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.
“Between now and 2023, I can pretty much guarantee it will be all housing all the time,” he said.
Ongoing mandated projects that will use up significant staff time include the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan consistency amendments and the Safety Element update along with the Circulation Element update.
He said other projects are grant-funded and have performance deadlines, so they also take priority over those initiated and funded by the county.
Third District Commissioner John Parke was concerned about some projects that weren’t included in the work plan, including the farm stay ordinance and lighting ordinance that were priority requests of the WE Watch organization.
“That’s something they’ve worked on so hard and asked for so long, what about that ordinance?” he said, referring to an ordinance to help prevent light pollution and preserve dark skies in Santa Ynez Valley.
Klemann said he hasn’t forgotten about it and will try to get it included in the next zoning amendment.
But Parke was encouraged by the Agriculture Element, last updated in 1991, and Conservation Element, last updated in 2010, being listed as potential new projects.
“The Agriculture Element and Conservation Element are way, way, way out of date, so to hear those included is music to my ears,” he said.
Second District Commissioner Laura Bridley also wanted to see ordinance amendments on parking and drive-through services added to the work program but didn’t garner any support for that from the rest of the commission.
Klemann said the proposed work plan will be presented to the Board of Supervisors at its March 9 meeting, with supervisors hashing out which projects to fund and by how much during budget workshop sessions the week of April 12.
The plan will be finalized when the board adopts the budget the week of June 7.