Last Thursday, the county’s Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) decisively turned back the petition by the Committee for One and the City of Santa Barbara to extend Santa Barbara’s sphere of influence to the eastern boundary of the City of Goleta. This unincorporated area of the eastern Goleta Valley, with approximately 30,000 residents, is primarily a residential area, and includes four mobile home parks and some significant areas of productive agricultural land.
Four years ago, the Committee for One collected more than 4,000 signatures from residents of the area who said that they would prefer to be part of the City of Santa Barbara rather than the City of Goleta. They were not asked whether they wanted to stay with the status quo, under the county. The leaders of the Committee for One, most notably community activist Harriet Phillips, are strong advocates of regional government for the South Coast, believing that issues such as housing and transportation are better addressed area-wide rather than jurisdiction by jurisdiction. Many of these same individuals worked to oppose Goleta incorporation for similar reasons.
We are now seeing a sea change in public opinion in East Goleta. Where a couple of years ago the Committee for One packed Santa Barbara City Council and LAFCO meetings with their supporters, last Thursday the crowd was largely from the mobile home parks and people who had been involved in last year’s Visioning Committee for the Eastern Goleta Valley. The mobile home park residents have a very legitimate fear that they would lose the protection of the county mobile home park rent control ordinance if they were annexed to the City of Santa Barbara. Goleta was exposed to such a legal challenge after incorporation and only after years of litigation was it able to turn it back.
But something else changed in the political environment, which brought another group, the Coalition for Sensible Planning, to the fore. There was a specific issue that affected people where they lived. To meet the state’s housing requirements, the county was proposing to rezone agricultural land along Hollister Avenue for high-density housing. This ignited the surrounding neighborhoods to organize around something close to their lives, and spurred action more intense than the abstract notion of regional governance, or even the desire of many for a Santa Barbara address. Initially the main players were confrontational and antagonistic to county government and their Second District supervisor in particular. But she and the county responded to their wish to develop a vision for the area, to be followed by an update of the 1993 Goleta Community Plan, beginning this fall. This empowered the community to design its own destiny, the same motivation that spurred City of Goleta incorporation in the western part of the valley in 2001.
While some unjustifiably harsh things were said about the City of Santa Barbara at last week’s meeting, the real issue was that these East Goletans were confident about the current direction of the county and their role in it, and were not at all confident this would continue if they came under the jurisdiction of the City of Santa Barbara.
The Santa Barbara City Council claimed that it was simply responding to a community request to become part of the city and argued that 30,000 residents needed more representation than one county supervisor. Perhaps the City of Santa Barbara believes, like the Committee for One, that regional government is the preferred course for the South Coast.
The final vote of the LAFCO commission was for possible incremental change, with any expansion of the sphere of influence of either the City of Santa Barbara or the City of Goleta only being done in conjunction with a concurrent proposal to annex the territory.
So what lies ahead for the South Coast? It seems clear that the mobile home parks can remain as islands within the county and so protect their rent control and this important reservoir of affordable housing. At some point, the Eastern Goleta Valley may seek to incorporate as a separate city if it has the financial resources to do so. A few areas close to Santa Barbara may seek to be annexed, and as Goleta matures, some of its neighbors may want to join that city in order to have more say in its decisions.
The fate of the Goleta Valley has been debated for many years, with three or four Goleta City incorporation elections before the successful one in 2001. But what the future holds for the remaining unincorporated areas of the South Coast remains uncertain. As one commissioner noted, he hoped this would not become a multi-generational issue. Is small government closest to the people the best government or do we need more regional cooperation to resolve our problems? As Goleta Mayor pro-tem Michael Bennett noted, UCSB’s Long Range Development Plan may reset the bar for all development in the Goleta Valley area. For the moment this issue is off the table, but it will be back, for the next generation or even sooner.
What: Goleta General Plan
When: Comments accepted through October 30
Where: Goleta City Council, 130 Cremona Drive, Goleta 93117
What: Lemon Festival
When: October 20-21
Where: Girsh Park, 7050 Phelps Road, Goleta
To reach Margaret Connell with Goleta gossip, news, and events, emair her at firstname.lastname@example.org.