Goleta took the penultimate step towards giving developer Michael Towbes the go-ahead to start building 200 new apartment units just north of Patterson Avenue’s La Sumida Gardens. The nursery’s owners also own the land at 5505 Overpass Road where the three-story complex is to be located. The Sumida Gardens Project is one of the rare apartment complexes to be constructed on the South Coast in recent years, and Towbes’s arrangement with the city mandates that it not be converted to condos for at least 55 years. At Monday’s meeting, it was lauded by interests as diverse as the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce and People United for Economic Justice Building Leadership Through Organizing (PUEBLO) as a model of urban infill rather than sprawl. Lifelong resident Ben Romo praised the project’s potential for helping to staunch the exodus of the South County’s “middle core” out of the area due to pricey housing, including many people he grew up with; Romo was followed by Jim Knight, of FLIR Systems in Goleta, who predicted that all 200 units would be snatched up by the employees he plans to hire in the next few years.
Thirty four of the units are being subsidized by more than $10 million from the city’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA) so that they will be affordable to people with incomes in the very low to moderate income range-meaning from 50 percent to 120 percent of the area median. The La Sumida project was nonetheless criticized by the League of Women Voters, and by former city council member (and Independent columnist) Margaret Connell because, as originally proposed and approved by the County of Santa Barbara in 1994, the project had promised that 100 percent of the units would be affordable; revised downward to 50 percent several years later when it was adopted into the Goleta Community Plan. On Monday, Councilwomen Jonny Wallis cast the sole dissenting vote to its approval. The apartment project returns to the agenda November 19 for final approval of the development agreement between the city and the property owners, the Sumida Family Limited Partnership.