Last Tuesday marked the end of the first phase of amending the City of Goleta’s General Plan. Watch for future installments before the Planning Commission and then back to the council later in the year.
Steve Chase, planning and environmental services director, began by stating, as he has in the past, that the General Plan is a good one, a very decisive instrument. While it has some “quirks,” he stressed that the amendments propose no new growth. Rather, they relate more to how things are done.
The audience last Tuesday was very different from that at the January 17 meeting, when most speakers opposed changes in the plan. A new group, Keepers of the Goodland, had circulated a letter slamming the prior council, of which I was a member, for “years of bickering, bullying, and infighting.” They gathered ahead of time at the Elephant Bar, next to the Santa Barbara Airport, and came to the Council Chambers wearing lemon badges reading, “Fix It.”
At the start, Mayor Michael Bennett ruled that he would only call on speakers who had not commented at the January 17 meeting. Nine speakers were unable to make further comments by this ruling. That left the field open to 20 new speakers, the majority of whom supported the council’s actions. While short on specifics, the general theme was for compromise, flexibility, and moderation. One speaker raised a new issue, the need to comply with AB32, which requires reductions in global warming emissions.
When it came to council action, all the remaining amendments were forwarded for further review. Councilmembers Roger Aceves and Jonny Wallis made a valiant effort to send Bacara-initiated amendments back for the proponent-the Bacara Resort-to carry forward at its own expense. But they were outvoted each time by Eric Onnen, Jean Blois, and Bennett. While a number of the amendments improved and clarified language in the original policy, others would weaken environmental protections.
Major proposed changes going forward from these two meetings include: opening the door to more regional shopping centers, timeshares and condos at the Bacara, moving the beach access at Haskell’s, potential widening of intersections such as at Storke Road and Hollister Avenue, and studies that could lead to reduced buffers and setbacks from environmentally sensitive habitats.
These meetings are the first where councilmembers have addressed the content of individual amendments. By council consent, this has been a staff-driven process up until now, and in this last round, the direction from council has been for the most part to proceed with staff’s recommendations.
At the end of the meeting, Onnen shared his thoughts on the process. At the beginning, he said, people feared that council was going to do a wholesale rewrite. What followed was an open public process and workshops that got wonderful reviews. He thought that out of that would come a collaborative process. Instead, it became an “election,” counting numbers on each side. He saw public comment as part of the decision-making, but not as an “election.” There was never an intention to quantify it, he said. His hope is that we are now on a path to where we can cooperate for results.
Unfortunately, this is not reflected in the actions of the council, where, despite strong public input to the contrary, all except 16 out of 77 proposed amendments have been sent forward. The solid majority votes of Onnen, Blois, and Bennett for all the amendments do not encourage hope for cooperation or compromise.
There will be further opportunities for public comment, however. The Planning Commission will be conducting a detailed item-by-item review. In March, they will look at the 35 amendments judged to require a simple amendment to the General Plan EIR, and will send recommendations back to council in April. They will see the 21 requiring further environmental analysis and a supplemental EIR in June, with the goal of returning recommendations to council in August.
Goletans should remember former U.S. House Speaker Tip O’Neill‘s advice that “all politics is local” and stay engaged as these amendments move forward.
Goleta Grapevine appears every Monday morning online at independent.com/goleta. To contact the author, who helped craft the original General Plan during her time as a councilmember and as mayor, email firstname.lastname@example.org.