rivers approaching Montecito along Highway
101 from the south will pass a sign that reads:
Montecito, Population 10,000. Twenty years ago,
that sign read “Montecito, Population 9,300,”
which, considering the popularity explosion Montecito and Santa
Barbara have experienced over the past two decades, is a testament to the
area’s ability to restrain growth.
By 1958, the population of Montecito almost doubled to 7,600 from
the 1950 census count of some 4,000. County Planning Director Richard
Whitehead told the Montecito Association (formerly known as the
Montecito Protective and Improvement Association) that under current
zoning regulations Montecito would grow to a population of 20,500 by
1971. He was quoted as saying, “We cannot stop growth, but we can
direct it along desired lines.”
Those “desired lines” included approval of three 8-story residential
buildings to be constructed on Hill Road behind the Biltmore. It took a
concerted effort by members of the Montecito Association, and a lawsuit,
to defeat that development. Staying small, we have found, takes not only
effort, but also time... and of course, money.
Montecito’s Community Plan, drawn up and approved in 1992,
seeks, among other things, to minimize ambient lighting in the village,
so that residents can continue “to see the stars” in the nighttime sky.
Many communities similar in size and demographics to ours have
similar plans and goals.
In the late 1950s, property owners along Coast Village Road agreed to
annexation to the City of Santa Barbara in exchange for a sewer system.
That was the first major step towards the urbanization of what had been
part of the village of Montecito.
More recently, transportation officials built a new roundabout at
the western edge of the village. Traffic at the intersection needed to be
addressed, but in retrospect, little thought was given to the amount of
high-powered lighting that current standards would require. Driving
into Montecito after dark from Santa Barbara, now that the roundabout
is completed, one is greeted by a startling array of tall bright street
lamps. The unintended consequence of the presence of so many required
lighting fixtures illustrates the truth to the adage of being “careful what
you wish for,” which in this case was simplified traffic flow.
Most of the rest of Montecito remains comfortably in the dark after
sunset, but this creeping urbanism is a constant threat, and the new
roundabout is an example of the kind of urban presence that many moved
here to avoid.
Keeping Montecito small – and dark – will require even greater efforts
going forward. But we believe Montecitans are up to the task.
So, welcome to quiet, verdant and still mostly dark, Montecito!