SANTA BARBARA COUNTY GRAND JURY 1997-98
PUBLIC-PRIVATE PARTNERSHIPS IN THE COUNTY PLANNING PROCESS
Released May 26, 1998
During completion of the Orcutt Community Plan and the Goleta Old Town Plan, private money from land owners and developers was used by the county in the preparation of Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs). Some members of the community felt that use of this money was illegal, or at least improper. Some considered the composition of the General Plan Advisory Committees (GPACs) to be biased. The Grand Jury was interested in finding out whether this use of private money was appropriate and how the members of the GPAC were selected.
To learn about the process used by other counties in California, the Grand Jury contacted neighboring counties or those similar in population size to Santa Barbara County. We also met with the head of the Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department and other staff members. We reviewed documents supplied by private citizens and by county staff.
State law requires that counties periodically update their General Plan. The most recent land use update in Santa Barbara County was the Orcutt Area General Plan, called the Orcutt Community Plan. At some time, the county will be required to schedule updates to the land use plans in other parts of county unincorporated areas, such as the Santa Ynez Valley and the Lompoc Valley. The purpose of these land use plans is to give direction to growth and development for the next 15 years. Issues such as roads, water supply, flooding, public safety and noise are considered in the planning.
Early in the process of an area plan update, a General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) is formed. The committee is composed of area residents with expertise in banking, agriculture, real estate, development, schools, etc. The GPAC holds public meetings and arrives at a plan regarding what kinds of development are needed in the community -- commercial, industrial, residential; and what features the community desires, such as open space, library, recreational opportunities. The GPAC then makes its recommendations to the Planning Commission.
During the preparation of the Plan, environmental concerns are addressed, such as impacts on biological and archeological resources, traffic, schools, air quality, sewage treatment facilities, and flood control. As required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is prepared which identifies the impacts of proposed land use changes, and how to mitigate these impacts.
Although updating of the land use plan and an EIR are required by the state, no state funding is provided to the county to accomplish this. Since the cost of preparing the Orcutt Plan EIR was estimated to be around $250,000, the county asked land owners to contribute to the cost of the EIR, based on the location of the property they owned. The county Planning and Development Department prepared the EIR and used consultants
with expertise in areas such as archeology and biology. The in-depth study of broad environmental concerns at the Area Plan stage would allow land owners to use this
information when they decide to develop their property in the future. By participating in the Area Plan EIR, owners would avoid the expense and delay of having the same analyses done piecemeal or individually at a later date, thus saving time and money.
Some members of the public perceived the use of private money in the preparation of the EIR as having been done behind the scenes, without informing the public. Some felt that this use of private money had undue influence on the decision making process. The following is a time line of the events that pertain to the use of private money. The Grand Jury has documented the process from information in staff reports presented at Board of Supervisors meetings.
County actions regarding the Orcutt Community Plan
- February 9, 1995: Board of Supervisors agenda item set March 14, 1995 as the date for a public hearing to "consider acceptance of up to $150,000 in private financial support for preparation of the Orcutt Community Plan." Santa Maria had recently used private financial support to prepare a sphere of influence update. Planning Department staff met with 23 owners of property in Orcutt called "Key Sites" to see if they were interested in contributing.
- Public notices of the March 14 hearing were published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on Sunday, March 5, and in the Santa Maria Times on Monday, March 6. The notices stated that the purpose of the hearing was to "Consider acceptance of up to $150,000 in private financial support for the preparation of the Orcutt Community Plan."
- Planning staff also called or notified members of the Orcutt GPAC and the Orcutt Area Advisory Group about the March 14 hearing.
- On March 14, 1995 the Board of Supervisors held a public hearing on the proposal. At this time Planning Department staff had corresponded with 46 property owners, and met with 24 of the owners. Contributions of $162,395 had been pledged from the owners. The Board adopted Resolution 95-120 which accepted up to $150,000 in private financial support, and increased the amount of support to $250,000. The county cited CEQA reforms and the County’s "budgetary constraints" as the basis for using private money to prepare a Master EIR.
- As part of the staff report for the March 14, 1995 Board meeting, a chart was included which listed Key Sites and estimated cost of site-specific studies for each site. The costs ranged from $1200 for Key Site H to $36,000 for Key Site 12, and $45,625 for Key Site 22.
- November 12, 1996 Board of Supervisors Meeting: The staff report stated that the Planning Department had been authorized to request proposals from qualified consultants "to assist the County in developing options and recommendations for financing public infrastructure to support buildout of the Orcutt Community Plan."
- The consultant was to be paid up to $110,000 for this work. The Planning Department budget included $35,000 for this purpose; Public Works Department
would provide $40,000; and "members of the development community will provide up to $45,000 with $30,000 committed to date."
- As of April 10, 1997 the total private contributions for the Orcutt Community Plan reached $289,225.39. ( See Exhibit 1)
County actions regarding Goleta Old Town Redevelopment
- The Goleta Community Plan was adopted by the Board of Supervisors in July of 1993. Use of the redevelopment process for Old Town Goleta was to be studied.
- June 20, 1995: Board of Supervisors accepted the Draft Goleta Old Town Feasibility Study
- July 12, 1995: The county did not include in the budget the cost of the Old Town study. Board of Supervisors meeting staff report states that total project costs were estimated to be $250,000 over two years, with "a 50% private dollar contribution." Planning and Development Department’s budget provided no funding for this project. A list of private development projects in Goleta Old Town was prepared. Staff was to find $125,000 in private contributions to fund the Planning and Economic Development Study for Goleta Old Town by contacting property owners to obtain formal commitments of funding.
- October 22, 1996 Board of Supervisors meeting staff report: The Goleta Old Town Revitalization Plan was released at the end of August 1996 and the Planning Commission initiated environmental review in September 1996. One item in the staff report is titled Fund Raising. By this time staff had raised "over $117,000 in contributions from community organizations, businesses, property owners and the Santa Barbara Municipal Airport."
- Staff of Planning and Development Department was authorized by the Board of Supervisors to raise an additional $85,000 from the private sector beyond the $125,000 previously authorized.
- As of November 24, 1997 total private donations for the Goleta Revitalization Plan reached $195,027.50 (See Exhibit 2)
- March 28, 1995: Fourth District County Supervisor Tim Staffel, then chairman of the Board, issued a letter "To All Interested Parties" to inform them of the status of the Orcutt Community Plan Update and the public-private partnership "between the County and the owners of undeveloped property in the Orcutt Planning Area."
- March 30, 1995: County issued Notice to Interested Persons that "On March 14, 1995, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors adopted Resolution 95-120 approving the acceptance of up to $250,000 in private financial support."
- The mailing list provided to the Grand Jury indicates that the "Interested Parties" or "Interested Persons" were the owners of developable land in Orcutt.
- March 3, 1997: A resident of Orcutt addressed the Board of Supervisors at a public meeting regarding "improper and biased solicitation of funds from special interest groups," and asked for a reply.
- March 17, 1997: A letter from an Orcutt homeowners association was presented to the Board at a public meeting by the same resident as above, repeating the same concerns. He stated the Board had not replied.
- April 14, 1997: Letter from the above individual to the Board of Supervisors stating, "Questionable solicitation of special interest money has now reached $278,000." He cited Key Site 3 with a land use designation for a high density mobile home park as an example of special treatment of land where the owner had contributed $18,475 to the preparation of the Orcutt Community Plan.
- July, 1997: An Orcutt resident, citing the Freedom of Information Act, requested and received financial information from the Planning Department about how the private money was used by county staff.
County response to citizen concerns
On April 22, 1997 a Deputy County Counsel wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors
at the Board’s request in response to the March 17 statement from the homeowners association. The County Counsel cited these points:
The acceptance of private funds to prepare the environmental analysis
(1) had been authorized by the Board at a duly noticed public hearing;
(2) is in accord with CEQA;
(3) is in accord with the County’s long-term policies and procedures; and
- does not afford any development entitlements to those who contributed funds.
The letter goes on to say that "All that has changed here is the timing of the environmental analysis, and therefore the timing of the payment by landowners." Orcutt residents who do not own undeveloped property but could be affected by the Plan were not contacted to contribute funds. In fact, greater scrutiny of environmental impacts on some Key Sites caused county staff to recommend lower densities than first proposed.
According to Planning and Development staff, when CEQA was amended in 1994 seminars were held to familiarize planners with new guidelines that allowed the use of private money in the environmental review process. The preparation of a "master" EIR done at the General Plan stage would "provide greater developer certainty," and help to expedite the process.
The fiscal analysis (mentioned above in the November 12, 1996 Board meeting) was requested by existing Orcutt residents, and was funded in part by private contributions.
Other counties’ responses regarding the use of private money
The Grand Jury asked four California counties about their use of private money in preparing General Plan or Area Plan updates.
- Monterey – Private money is only used for an EIR for General Plan amendment related to a discreet parcel. When the county does a true General Plan update, no private money is used. When a developer pays for a discreet EIR, developer must pay all costs, including 15% contingency and 30% overhead charge that covers county’s costs for administering the EIR contract. Board approves EIR contracts in public with full dollar amount disclosed.
- Sonoma – No private money is used. "I have heard of instances where a General Plan Update was funded at least in part by surcharges or other fees charged to development applications. However, in Sonoma County, these efforts have been supported by revenues from the County general fund." Consultants are hired after a bidding process to prepare EIRs; their work is reviewed and accepted by staff and finally by the board.
- Stanislaus – No private money is used. "It has not been utilized in the past."
- Ventura – If a property owner wants a General Plan Amendment and an Area Plan update is scheduled for that area, the Board may direct that property owner to "financially participate in the preparation of the EIR…." The private money is used for staff time, overhead, consultants, printing and distribution. The County spells out the use of private money in the description of the update program. All financial information is subject to the Freedom of Information Act, and anyone can review files.
General Plan Advisory Committees (GPACs)
In Santa Barbara County, when an Area Plan is to be updated, a GPAC is formed. The members are appointed by the county supervisor in whose district the Area Plan is located. Some county residents have complained that the members of the GPAC are often biased in favor of development, at the expense of current residents. Other counties informed the Grand Jury of their practices:
- In Ventura County, where most of the land is in cities, there are Municipal Advisory Committees (MACs), or groups recognized by the Board of Supervisors. The update of the El Rio/Del Norte Area Plan update utilized the services of the El Rio MAC.
- Sonoma County said that the criteria for selecting committee members is up to the Board of Supervisors. One committee may consist entirely of all agriculture interests, and another of a wide range of interests.
- Stanislaus – A General Plan Update Committee is maintained, composed of two members of the Board and two members of the Planning Commission. An update of the Housing Element of the General Plan had a committee whose members wereasked to serve "based on their experience, knowledge, interest and advocacy of housing issues.
- Monterey – The Board of Supervisors appoints committee members. A recent committee was composed of representatives of groups such as Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, Cattleman’s Association, farming and real estate interests.
Santa Barbara County did not budget for the cost of the Orcutt Community Plan EIR or the Goleta Old Town study. Other counties surveyed did not use private money.
Santa Barbara County followed the law in using private money to fund the Orcutt Community Plan update and the Goleta Old Town Study. The Board gave public notice of its intention to use private money.
However, the use of private money did not seem to register with the public in Orcutt until the results of the planning process were recognized. The public perception has been that this use of private money has had undue influence on the outcomes of the plans. The composition of Advisory Committees has also been perceived as unfairly represented by development interests.
- The public was not fully aware of the use of private money in the preparation of the Orcutt Community Plan EIR until late in the planning process.
- The composition of the advisory committees is perceived as biased because the individual members are appointed by the Supervisor of that district.
- The Board of Supervisors should regularly give the public an accounting of the solicitation of private funds, the purpose of the money, who is doing the fund raising, the amount collected, and how the money is used. [Finding 1]
- The Board of Supervisors should amend the GPAC Guidelines. Advisory committees should be formed with positions for different interests or groups, such as farming, small business, retail, industry, environmental, development, finances, real estate, community, senior citizens, schools. The groups should each name their own representative to serve on the advisory committee, thus taking the decision of who the individual should be out of the political arena. [Finding 2]
Board of Supervisors [Findings 1and 2, Recommendations 1 and 2]
We want to advise you that California Penal Code Section 933.05 requires that responses to Grand Jury Findings and Recommendations must be made in writing to the Presiding Judge of the Superior Court and the Grand Jury Foreperson within 90 days (Governing bodies) or 60 days (Department heads) of the issuance of the report
Therefore the Grand Jury requires that you respond to each of the Findings and Recommendations that applies to your agency.
Please send your response to:
Honorable Judge Frank J. Oachoa
Presiding Judge, Santa Barbara County Superior Court
1100 Anacapa Street
Santa Barbara, CA. 93121
Grand Jury Foreperson at the same address.
Responses to the Grand Jury should be submitted on a 3 ½ inch computer disk (preferably in Word) along with the printed response.
All exhibits and attachments are in the published final report.