At last, the debate has begun. Last Thursday, the Goleta City Council commenced discussion of proposed amendments to its General Plan-a process that’s already cost $350,000 and taken up large amounts of staff time-focusing on which to continue processing and which to drop. By meeting’s end, 22 had been struck down, but it was disappointing to see so many move forward, especially because the council votes followed two hours of public testimony where comments opposed to limiting access to Haskell’s Beach below Bacara Resort and Spa, changing “shall” to “should”, and “preserve” to “protect” predominated.
Goleta resident Richard Foster reminded councilmembers that, during the last election, they had criticized the previous council for not listening. He urged them not to fall into the same trap. On the other hand, a few speakers, such as Kristin Amyx, CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, praised the council for proceeding methodically and thoughtfully.
Council’s first action was an easy one, to delete 11 amendments that staff recommended not be considered further. This was approved unanimously.
Following that, things became more contentious. Roger Aceves moved that all Bacara proposed amendments be dropped and sent back to them to go through the regular application process. JJonny Wallis seconded the motion with “You bet!” Eric Onnen argued that he could not support wiping out items simply because of the author’s name. Aceves countered that he wanted Bacara to pay for processing its project. This could create a precedent for other developers, he said, and he refused to create public policy for fear of being sued. Jean Blois asked about Bacara’s lawsuit against the General Plan and was told that, for the moment, it is stayed while the Council considers these changes. Wallis argued that it was clear that Bacara wants to privatize the beach, limit public access, and reduce environmental constraints in order to build time shares/hotel condominiums. In the end, the vote to pull all Bacara items lost 3 to 2, with only Aceves and Wallis voting “yes.”
Mayor Michael Bennett then placed all 19 items requiring environmental review on the table. Many of these included recommendations for studies of buffers and setbacks for various environmentally sensitive habitats. Wallis argued that any changes should wait the outcome of these studies. However, on a 3-2 vote council forwarded the whole package for further processing.
There followed a couple of victories, first for Mayor Bennett. He said that access to Haskell’s Beach 24/7 was a huge issue for his constituents and asked his colleagues for a motion in support of removing any limit to the hours from future consideration. Wallis obliged and a unanimous vote followed.
Laced throughout the amendments were changes of “preserve” to “protect”, many initiated by the Bacara. While staff described this as a distinction without much difference, Wallis suggested that the issue could be resolved by redefining “preserve” in the glossary to something reflective of the concept of “protect.” This passed with only Blois voting “No.” That took another 11 items off the list. Planning director Steve Chase will bring back a definition of “preserve” which, perhaps ambiguously, will include “allowing flexibility”.
When it came to the changes that won’t require further environmental review, the council went item-by-item. First up was a change to allow, rather than discourage, additional regional shopping centers. Staff expressed a desire to be able to work with projects as they come through the door, rather than making them go to council first. Meanwhile, the council majority did not want to close the door on any revenue generating business wanting to come into the city, and wanted to respond to their friends and neighbors who have told them they want a Target!
There was no mention of the impact of big boxes on small businesses, traffic, or housing for low income retail workers. Despite overwhelming public opposition to this change, it was approved 4-1, with Wallis dissenting. Allowing time shares and hotel condominiums also passed, but on a 3-2 vote, with Aceves joining Wallis voting “No.”
At 11 p.m., the council decided to continue the remaining items to Tuesday January 29, at 6 p.m.