The main drag of this coastal city is lined with boutiques, bars and restaurants offering everything from sushi to vegan hot dogs. Prius hybrid cars still sport Kerry-Edwards bumper stickers. There's a bakery that caters to pets.
An hour's drive to the north, migrant workers pick grapes along two-lane roads. Four-wheel-drive trucks fill the parking lot at Maverick's Saloon, and the Elks Rodeo is one of the biggest draws of the year.
These two very different lifestyles struggle under one roof: Santa Barbara County. Now, the clash of cultures has sparked a ballot measure scheduled for June 2006 that, if approved, will split these worlds and form Mission County, the state's 59th.
With its wine country, the northern end of Santa Barbara County is conservative, pro-development and supported by agriculture. The chic, urban south tends to be liberal, antigrowth and tourism-oriented.
"There's just a difference of opinion on how things get done," said Dianne Hill, 54, a resident of Santa Maria in the north. "We can get along, but it would probably be an advantage for both to go their separate ways."
Some experts see the secession effort as a sign of mounting distrust and dissatisfaction with local government throughout California. In Los Angeles, separated from Santa Barbara by Ventura County, claims of neglect at City Hall led to failed secession measures in 2002 that would have split the San Fernando Valley and Hollywood off from the city.
"Everything has become so polarized, and the inability to trust one another and to compromise play a big role in local politics," said Sherry Bebitch Jeffe, a political scientist at the University of Southern California.
Opponents argue that splitting Santa Barbara County would create financial problems and lead to cutbacks in services, higher taxes and reduced political clout in state government.
Supporters counter that the county government favors the south and that a new county would be better for development and be more efficient.
"It's about being in control of your own destiny and the life you've chosen," said developer Jim Diani, who helped organize the breakaway effort.
The proposed Mission County would include the upscale Santa Ynez Valley, best known for its winemaking, and the city of Santa Maria. Santa Barbara County would keep its namesake city, along with Montecito, Goleta and Carpinteria.
The breakup effort began in 2002 after major landowners and agribusiness interests failed to recall a county supervisor who sided with colleagues from the south to oppose offshore oil drilling and to condemn the Boy Scouts for its stance against homosexuals, liberal positions that didn't sit well in the north.
Financial issues pose a major challenge to a breakup of the 386,000-resident, 2,738-square-mile county.
A state-appointed commission estimated in March that a new Mission County would start out $30 million in debt, partially because the south generates more property and sales tax revenue.
"To start a new county, it's going to cost more money than we will save," said Michael Williams, 59, a construction worker who lives in Santa Maria. "For us little guys, it's only going to raise our taxes."
To pass, the split would need approval by a majority of voters throughout Santa Barbara County and within the proposed new county. A previous secession move in 1978 was rejected by more than 75 percent of the voters.
Brett Adams, 22, is skeptical of the latest breakaway effort. He recently graduated from college in Santa Barbara and works in a coffee shop while playing with a punk group.
"I can't see why they can't coexist," he said.
Up north in Santa Barbara County, Calif., where bell peppers are harvested, along with other crops, agriculture is a force and land development is favored in a politically conservative environment. This could become Mission County.
Police and antiwar protesters clash in southern Santa Barbara County the month the United States invaded Iraq to depose Saddam Hussein.