Santa Barbara Defends Its Property Values Against Global Warming ‘Art’

Published November 1, 2007

Even in Santa Barbara, California–arguably the birthplace of the modern environmental movement–environmentalists can go too far.

That seems to be the message behind the demise of the “blue line” project, an art installation that would have involved painting blue waves on city streets for five years to denote where waters would reach if sea levels rise as global warming doomsayers predict.

City leaders backed the project in July, but the main promoter backed out in late August under a stunning amount of opposition from Santa Barbara residents usually friendly to environmental causes.

Their ire was raised by Travis Armstrong, a local newspaper editor whose columns savaged the project, and a local taxpayer and property rights group that pointed out two important facts: 1) the project would have been funded with taxpayer money; and 2) the result of the funding likely would have been lower property values in areas with blue streets.

‘Don’t Mess With Property Values’

“What we had here was people saying, ‘I’m for saving the environment, but don’t mess with my property values,'” said Joe Armendariz, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association.

“Our group is pro-housing and pro-oil development, so we’re always on the other side of the argument with these folks,” Armendariz said. “But in this case we came up with an argument that resonated with them and was easy for them to understand.”

The project was conceived by Bruce Caron, whose organization, Light Blue Line, promotes painting streets blue in coastal cities to denote where waters could rise under alarmist global warming scenarios. The organization believes doing so would bring attention to global warming and motivate people to take action to stop it.

The local taxpayers group objected to the $12,000 price tag, and Caron responded by lining up alternative funding. But it wasn’t enough to overcome the property values objection and California’s strict environmental rules.

Environmental Act Adds Burdens

“Another issue we brought up after declining property values was the California Environmental Quality Act,” Armendariz said. CEQA requires every project to comply with a lengthy and expensive environmental review and mitigation process, and the blue line project could have been subject to the act.

“We made a point of saying if we begin to look at the CEQA impact, we begin to pick winners and losers in the community and create incentives that influence where developers choose to put developments,” Armendariz said. “Builders wouldn’t want to develop land in the blue area.”

Many people say the modern environmental movement in the United States got its start in Santa Barbara in 1969 after a Union Oil Co. well six miles off the California coast leaked hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil that washed ashore.

Steve Stanek ([email protected]) is managing editor of Budget & Tax News and a research fellow at The Heartland Institute.