Making the best land use decisions possible is of foremost concern to our organization. And, if there is one thread running through the community, it is our desire to protect the unique characteristics of our valley – its beauty, tranquility, healthy environment and sense of community. We all want to preserve and enhance agricultural endeavors which enrich our quality of life. The vision of a well planned future for the valley is sustained by the continuous protection of our many unique resources.
Our members can rest assured that, with your help, WE Watch will continue to monitor new development plans, attend and speak at public meetings, work closely with other community groups, and watch for any land use changes to our valley.
On May 26, 2020 Solvang City Council unveiled Solvang 2.0. It included a conceptual design for a 7+ acre proposed development on the site of the Veterans Memorial Hall and addition of buildings to Solvang Park/parking lot plus longer term ideas for other city owned buildings and parking lots. The Vets Hall site acreage included 2+ acres of the Skytt lumberyard and adjoining house recently purchased by a Santa Barbara rental property owner and developer, Ed St. George. His planner produced the conceptual drawings for the proposed large project.
The project, a Danish appearing district in the Village Area, consisted of three four story buildings – two boutique hotels, with blended use building (shops, restaurants topped by apartments) along Mission Drive (Highway 246). The pedestrians only area included additional blended use buildings and a plaza. In addition there was a Public Administration building and row houses along Maple Avenue, and a parking garage.
The City’s Veteran’s Memorial Building, a 1936 historic structure though it had no historic designation, was to be demolished along with the existing County building housing the Sheriff’s Office, the Solvang Library and the County Supervisor’s office.
When the City Council agenda was released, this project was news to Solvang and other Valley residents. Over the weekend they gathered 1,000 Solvang and 600 other Valley signatures and presented them to City Council on the 26th. WE Watch and residents sent letters. Others spoke at the meeting.
A second version of the project, released on June 27, saved the Vets Hall, but removed the Legion Wing and Vets Room at front of the Vets Hall and provided veterans’ facilities in the blended use building. It modified the Public Administration Building, enlarging what had been only a Cyber Library.
WE Watch gathered Solvang 2.0 comments along with information about visioning and urged City Council to bring residents together via a visioning process rather than continuing with the proposed project. Public opposition continued and in July the City announced that Solvang 2.0 had been put on hold and the City was searching for a professional planning firm to facilitate a community visioning process and General Plan update.
Buellton and Solvang General Plans, Housing Elements
The city of Buellton is working on a General Plan Update of the Land Use and Circulation Elements with an EIR on these elements in process. Completion is expected in Fall 2022.
Solvang City Council established a General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC), which has worked with Mintier-Harnish, Planning Consultants as it developed a community-wide visioning process in 2021. Building on documents developed by GPAC, evaluated by the Planning Commission and Çity Council before its approval, the consultants have held workshops open to the community.
WE Watch has participated and commented on this work.
Visit www.plansolvang.com for more information about the General Plan process.
County, Buellton & Solvang Housing Elements
Housing Elements are 8 year plans (2023-31) that describe efforts to meet the Regional Housing Needs Allocations (RHNA) for all income levels. This includes addressing how the housing needs of all segments of the community will be met. Sites will be identified, including those that may require rezoning to provide the land needed to meet the RHNA. The Housing Elements must be sent to the state for final approval by February 15, 2022.
Agricultural Enterprise Ordinance
WE Watch sponsored two discussion meetings on Agricultural Tourism in June 2019 and January 2020 with John Parke, 3rd District Planning Commissioner, moderating. After these meetings, Commissioner Parke formed an Advisory Committee. It has two WE Watch members, Jessica Schley and Kathy Rosenthal on it. This group was instrumental in bringing ideas generated earlier to the stage where they could be incorporated into an ordinance. County staff had been working on an Agricultural Tiered Permitting Ordinance and a Farmstay Ordinance for some time. In 2021 staff began working on an Agricultural Enterprise Ordinance and its scoping for a Program EIR. WE Watch submitted extensive comments in December 2021 on its first draft and additional comments in June 2022. The Farm Stay ordinance has been incorporated into the Agricultural Enterprise Ordinance, a welcome development.
Hotel & Housing Development for Mission Drive, Solvang
Later in 2020, Mr. St. George proposed mixed income apartment housing on the Skytt Lumberyard site at 1783 and 1793 Mission Drive in Solvang, which he owns. It had 5 of 59 apartments designated very low income. He then indicated to City Council that he preferred a plan for a hotel and Council expressed interest in such a development.
With a new City Council in place in 2021, he proposed for conceptual review a traditional Spanish architecture hotel with 86 rooms plus 14 condo style vacation rentals for the 2.14 Acre site. Height would be 48′ plus a 52′ tower, which exceeds the 35′ limit. In April 2022 he submitted a revised plan for preliminary review, which combined a 77 room, Mission style architecture hotel with restaurant and spa plus 45 units of housing, including “affordable by design” micro units. Meanwhile, a .25 acre parcel on Pine Street was added to the 2.19 acres of the former Skytt Lumberyard and adjoining home. That home was to be moved to another site.
In July 2022, the developer submitted a revised project to the Design Review Committee for conceptual review. He reduced the number of buildings and their height to 35 feet. He moved the entrance from Pine Street to the west side of the project. He removed the penthouse, restaurant and spa and moved the pool area to the center of the project. He provided the required parking onsite. Outdoor lighting fixtures were well chosen for the architectural design and fully shielded. WE Watch submitted comments.
WE Watch asked the Planning Commission for a thorough review of this project, including story poles so it and the community could better understand the height and density of this development. We questioned the proposed height, set backs and density, lack of required parking on site, location of entrance and exit and requested further refinement of the improved architectural design. We requested that all work together to achieve a superb project for this sensitive, historic area of Solvang.
Santa Ynez Valley: Obtaining Regulations Needed to Coexist with Cannabis
Since WE Watch became involved with cannabis regulation December 2018, its goal has been to help the Valley obtain needed regulations so that residents, tourists, and other agriculture (including the wine industry) can coexist with cannabis cultivation.
Following legalization of cannabis by California Voters in November 2016, the State and then County government began developing cannabis regulations for many aspects of cannabis activities. For a period of time, the state issued temporary and then provisional licenses while waiting for counties to develop complementary regulations. The County forwarded provisional license applications to the State without vetting for accuracy.
The County Inland Land Use Ordinance was approved by the Board of Supervisors on February 27, 2018 and the County Commercial Business Licensing Ordinance was approved on March 19, 2019. The Carpinteria Valley, Cebada and Tepusquet Canyon areas were impacted by significant cannabis cultivation and so began confronting the County about their problems before these ordinances were adopted. However, the Santa Ynez Valley was not yet impacted so WE Watch and residents were “asleep” during deliberations on the Land Use Ordinance.
WE Watch first asked for help from the Board of Supervisors in early December 2018 and the following week a representative from Fredensborg Canyon asked the board for action.
On Jan. 29, 2019, at the Board of Supervisors meeting, a standing room only crowd of residents, including vintners plus cannabis growers filled the Santa Barbara Board’s Hearing Room. Seventy people signed up to speak, including WE Watch. The hearing and board deliberations lasted about 4 hours.The results were encouraging. The Board did vote to begin the process of revising the Cannabis Ordinance and by July 9, 2019 had amended the Inland Land Use to provide additional regulation as follows:
- Ban cannabis cultivation on AG-1-5 and AG-1-10 parcels (5 & 10 acres) of 20 acres or less.
- A limit on total acreage in cultivation in the County of 1,755 acres.
- The Business License Ordinance was amended to:
- Not allow cannabis testing firms to locate on agricultural lands
- Prequalify 8 applicants for storefront retail, and randomly select 1 for each of the 6 Community Plan Areas plus 2 more for sites not covered by Community Plans. (Subsequently the selection process has been pulled for further revision.)
• Increase staff’s authority to reject renewals by changing language from “may” deny to “shall”
• Not allow generators for security lighting and cameras.
- In addition 3rd District Supervisor Joan Hartmann asked and got support from the other members to have the staff research:
• No cannabis cultivation on AG-1-20 parcels (20-39 acres)
• Expand notification requirements
• Solutions for odor problems
• Parcel limitations (e.g. limits on size of grow).
• Buffers for cities, townships and EDRNs. (Existing Developed Rural Neighborhoods
WE Watch supported all the above actions. Our early December request to the Board for help may have encouraged the 1/29 meeting. The WE Watch sponsored 1/17/19 Lecture on Cannabis Regulation by County staff provided more than 200 Valley and other County residents with needed information. WE Watch then sponsored the first ever countywide, face-to-face meeting of representatives from regions experiencing cannabis problems (Carpinteria Valley, Cebada and Tepusquet Canyons, Cuyama Valley, Valley neighborhoods where applications were filed ). Eventually a countywide Coalition for Responsible Cannabis formed. WE Watch did not join but cooperated with it. In March 2019, WE Watch coordinated a discussion with interested diverse stakeholders for John Parke, 3rd District Planning Commissioner attended by about 50 people.
Since early 2019, WE Watch has consistently written letters and spoken at both County Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings asking for the following actions to protect the Santa Ynez Valley through amendments to the Inland Cannabis Land Use Ordinance:
1. Ban on cannabis activities on AG-1 lots less than 20 acres (approved)
2. Cap on total cannabis acreage in the County (approved)
3. Odor control (processing must be indoors and odor controlled, with exception of freezing. 7/14/20)
4. Ban cannabis activities in EDRNs. (approved, 7/14/20)
5. Outdoor manufacturing prohibited. (approved)
6. Use CUPs or a more nuanced similar tool on larger parcels to protect residences, wineries and tasting rooms, agricultural crops. (approved AG-II cultivation areas cumulatively exceeding 51% of gross lot area requires CUP) (minimal, more needed, 7/14/20)
7. Cap on cultivation acreage on individual larger parcels (no action)
8. One mile buffer around cities and townships (no action)
9. Public involvement in the retail selection process (approved)
10. Merit based application selection process (approved)
WE Watch has also commented on the business license ordinance.
The County is using consultants to help CEO, Controller-Auditor and Treasurer – Tax Collector staff get a handle on the complicated cannabis taxes. The board of Supervisors will consider changes to the cannabis taxes in early 2023.
In March 2022 the board of Supervisors removed cannabis processing rom the acreage cap in an effort to encourage more in-county processing. Our 3rd District Supervisor voted “No.” WE Watch questioned taking this action without any reviw of its impacts on agriculture and residents. In May 2022 the Board of Supervisors conceptually agreed to require Conditional Use Permits for all new applications beginning in October for the Inland Land Use Ordinance and will have a final vote on August 16, 2022.
Lack of odor control for outdoor cultivation, indoor cultivation and processing on larger AG-I parcels and AG-II parcels is the big remaining problem. Currently, 24 parcels west of Buellton are in the application pipeline with a few already approved. Appealed projects have been approved by the Board of Supervisors, most with no odor control requirements. Odor problems can only increase for Buellton and are already severe for a month or longer two or three times a year. WE Watch continues to work with our 3rd District Supervisor and Planning Commissioner for a solution to this problem.
Applications for one retail outlet in the unincorporated area of the Santa Ynez Valley were submitted in October. Three applicants survived the evaluation done in Phase One. These three applications for locations in the downtown area of the Santa Ynez Township underwent Phase 2 evaluation, community compatibility, by County staff. The Farmacy, which proposed using the former Star Drug site on Madera, obtained a land use permit. In December 2021, the County estimated it would be 4-6 months before it opened. The Farmacy has been remodeling the site but has not opened yet.
Solvang Urban Growth Boundary Initiative
In 2017, WE Watch became concerned about Solvang’s proposal to enlarge the City by about one third and began opposing the encroachment of urban development on prime agricultural land. It supported the formation of Save Our Solvang and its efforts to end the Sphere of Influence Study. It agreed with the use of an Urban Growth Boundary to protect agricultural land for the next 20 years. Save Our Solvang (SOS) gave a presentation to City Council on Monday, September 10, 2018 to explain what an urban Growth Boundary is and why SOS favors such an initiative for Solvang. Here is a printed version of the Power point presentation: Urban Growth Boundary for Solvang.
In Fall 2019 SOS hired the Environmental Defense Center to assist it with the legal aspects of an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) initiative drive and election campaign. During April 2020, in spite of the difficulties presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteers worked with registered voters to collect499 valid signatures (10% of Solvang’s 3,670 registered voters). On June 8, 2020, City Council voted 4-1 to place the Urban Growth Boundary ordinance in the General Plan. Save Our Solvang plans to become inactive after some voter registration work, but its volunteers will continue to watchdog the UGB and related matters through WE Watch.
Chumash Fee to Trust Land Annexation
Fee-to-trust is a process established by the Federal government to allow recognized Indian tribes to increase the size of their reservations by removing land from the county and state and placing it within the trust. This originated to allow Indians the means to survive economically. Any lands within the trust are exempt from state and local taxes and regulations including zoning.
Such transfers affect the local community because once land is in the “trust” it is no longer under the jurisdiction of the County. Land that is part of the Chumash reservation becomes part of this sovereign nation. Local zoning and other regulations no longer apply and no property or state taxes are levied on reservation land.
Camp 4: In 2010 the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians purchased 1400 acres, known as Camp 4, from the estate of the late Fess Parker. Not contiguous to the Chumash reservation, this land is located at the northeast corner of 154/246. An application was made to the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Department of the Interior to annex Camp 4 to the reservation through fee to trust. Such a transfer would increase the size of the reservation ten-fold. This application was appealed by several individuals and organizations in the Valley.
In 2016 and again in 2017, Congressman LaMalfa, who lives 500 miles away from the Santa Ynez Valley, introduced legislation to insure the annexation of these lands to the Chumash. The 2019 bill, AB 1491, was approved by the House and sent to the Senate. On December 20, 2019 The National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2020 became law. It contained the provision to place Camp 4’s 1,427 acres into the Chumash Reservation . The Chumash have not yet announced more detailed plans for developing tribal housing and a tribal center for its members on this land.
Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan Update
The Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan is the foundational document for land use decisions in the Santa Ynez Valley. It is part of the county’s General or Comprehensive Plan and is a legally enforceable document.
The process of updating it began in 2000 when a diverse group of valley residents developed the Valley Blueprint. The Blueprint voiced a desire “to protect the unique qualities and character of the region while maintaining a sound base for economic sustainability of its quality of life.”
This was followed by the Santa Ynez Valley General Planning Advisory Committee (GPAC) whose members were appointed by former Supervisor Gail Marshall. Over the course of nearly two years the GPAC held a total of 32 public meetings to discuss a wide range of issues including:
Parks, Recreation and Trails
Agricultural Tourism and Wineries
Water, Wastewater, and Flood Hazards
Circulation and Highways
In August 2004 the Board of Supervisors initiated a draft project description of the SYVCP update. On February 15, 2005 the Board of Supervisors substantially reduced the area covered by the plan.
Early in 2005 Third District Supervisor, Brooks Firestone, appointed a new Valley Planning Advisory Committee (VPAC) to refine and offer alternatives to the previous work of the GPAC. Another series of public meetings was held.
On September 26, 2006 the Board of Supervisors sent the SYVCP update out for an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). The Draft EIR was released for comment in July 2007. The Draft EIR was then revised in response to public comment. The SYVCP and EIR went on to the Planning Commission in May 2009. The Commission conducted five public hearings on the Plan before certifying the EIR and recommending adoption of a revised SYVCP to the Board of Supervisors on July 15, 2009. The Board voted to approve the Plan on October 6, 2009.
WE Watch was very active in this lengthy process. Our members served as part of the Valley Blueprint, GPAC and VPAC committees presenting a perspective in keeping with our Mission Statement and Guiding Principles. (See About Us.) When the Draft EIR was released, WE Watch members reviewed and commented section by section on all the topics including the sufficiency of mitigation measures. Multiple WE Watch Board members were present at each of the Planning Commission hearings and presented both oral and written comments..
The Santa Ynez Valley Community Plan can be found at:
Carbon Farming [Carbon Farming on the Chamberlin Ranch, report by Penny Knowles]
Other Projects We Are Currently Monitoring
- Air Quality Improvements
- Campus 36, Buellton
- County Recreation Master Plan