Is a California County Headed for Divorce?
LOS ANGELES – Santa Barbara County (search), Calif., is an upscale tourist destination known for beaches, boutiques and five-star restaurants. But it has another side, too — rolling farmland and mechanical bulls — and this split personality is threatening to tear the county in two.
A group of citizens from the more conservative and rural northern part of Santa Barbara County is fighting to break away from the more liberal south and form a new county, "Mission County."
Jim Dianim (search), the chairman of Citizens for County Organization (search), says it’s time that liberals in the south Santa Barbara County stopped dictating policy to the north.
"When you make rules and regulations county-wide, one side or the other is going to be on the short end of the stick," said Dianim.
The city of Santa Barbara and the beach communities in the southern part of the county make plenty in property and retail taxes, while the farm economy in the north of the county boasts a booming wine industry and a significantly lower cost of living.
The last move towards secession occurred in 1978, and was rejected by 75 percent of the voters. Critics of the current proposed split say that the move would cost thousands of jobs, raise taxes and cut services, like fire and police.
"Our air quality is something that doesn't stop at any borders," said Nancy Johnson of the Coalition Against County Split (search). "Our transportation doesn't stop at any borders. Our housing difficulties don't stop at borders."
Santa Barbara County supervisor Salud Carbajal (search) says the north should be careful what it wishes for in wanting to break away.
"In the south county, other than an initial blow, they're going to be financially solvent," said Carbajal. "So I think the north has the most to lose."
The move towards secession will be neither cheap nor easy. The study for the proposed split will cost nearly $1 million. In the end, the voters will decide if the county would be better off splitting up.
"We think we can do things less expensive in the north, but we have to evaluate that and present that argument to our community," said Dianim.
Click in the box near the top of the story to watch a report by FOX News' Trace Gallagher.