The Good Land Grapples with Growth

Goleta and Noleta Both Seek to Retain Valley’s Suburban Character

by Martha Sadler

Two seminal documents emerged from greater Goleta last week declaring that region’s determination to do battle against high-density development of any kind. On Wednesday, the Goleta City Council conducted its final public hearing on the city’s first general plan. On Saturday, the Goleta Visioning Committee, a county advisory group, unveiled GVC 20/20, which the committee hopes will serve as a blueprint for the unincorporated area east of the city.

Goleta’s General Plan/Coastal Land Use Plan has been meticulously crafted over the past four years by the city’s original council. It limits the city’s development to one percent of its acreage annually, which is about the same rate at which Goleta has grown, on average, over the past 20 years. It calls for only about one million square feet of commercial and another million square feet of residential development over the next 20 years. One way in which the plan slows growth is by maintaining the agricultural designation on all parcels currently being farmed, whether or not the landowners wish to continue pursuing ag. The general plan’s most controversial policy is the one governing the fate of several large parcels along Hollister Avenue earmarked for high-density housing. The council designated them high-density in grudging obedience to state mandates. But the council included in that high-density designation what some allege is a poison pill to discourage developers from ever actually building on those parcels — namely, a requirement that 55 percent of units in any condo development must be affordable to people earning very low, low, or moderate incomes. The general plan was skewered by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce for setting the city “on a path of minimal housing production, very targeted commercial industry growth, and few new business opportunities.” However, the Chamber claimed one significant victory Wednesday when councilmembers narrowed the definition of wetlands and decreased the buffer zone required to surround them.

Three days later, over in the eastern valley, the Goleta Visioning Committee produced what was in many ways a mirror image of the city’s plan. Second District Supervisor Susan Rose appointed the 12-person GVC in response to accusations that she was conspiring to sneak high-density housing into the eastern valley without the consent of residents. Indeed, when the committee first convened, anti-development activist Mary Whalen publicly predicted that under the pretext of community participation, the group Rose had appointed would be gulled into rubber-stamping her agenda. On Saturday Whalen lauded the committee on the vision, which would preserve all agriculturally zoned lands, institute strong environmental protections, and limit future housing density to a maximum of seven units per acre. Small farmers thanked the committee for preserving ag parcels, through Givens Farm manager Chris Thompson noted that all 60 of his workers commute daily from Lompoc. Not everybody on the committee was satisfied with the report: Eva Inbar suggested that she might author a minority report objecting to the committee’s failure to acknowledge the need for more affordable housing. One huge difference between the GVC’s document and the city’s general plan is that the eastern valley plan is strictly advisory. In order to see it adopted as policy, the Coalition for Sensible Planning — a slow-growth advocacy group — is doing everything it can to extract promises from Second District supervisorial candidates Janet Wolf and Dan Secord, who are competing to succeed Susan Rose when she steps down next January. In addition, several speakers at Saturday’s meeting advocated the formation of a permanent Goleta Valley planning commission with powers at least as compelling as those enjoyed by the Montecito Planning Commission.

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