Goleta Tussles with Venoco

General Plan Amendments Initiated for Study

In a continuing conflict over General Plan amendments, the City of Goleta is at odds with Venoco Inc., proprietor of the Ellwood Marine Terminal and petroleum facility. The current issue centers on Goleta’s interpretation of land-use policy and what Venoco claims it is entitled to under state and federal law. “They’re trying to change the rules of the game and the rights of the property owner after they’ve already been established,” said Steve Kirby, Venoco counsel. The proposed amendments involve changes to Venoco’s franchise agreement and the modification of Goleta’s Coastal Zoning Ordinance so that it reconciles with the city’s relatively new General Plan.

This is one [General Plan] initiation I can support because there is some information we need,” said Councilmember Margaret Connell, who admitted to not normally supporting General Plan amendments. She added the caveat that the language in the initiation needed to be clear in order to show that the process was to be an investigation, not an implicit approval of the proposed amendments.

Goleta Planning and Environmental Services Director Steve Chase was adamant that, under existing land use and coastal ordinances, the Ellwood facility could neither expand nor increase its current production. “Venoco pumped millions [of dollars] into this facility at a risk, knowing that it was a nonconforming use,” he said, adding that site renovations were allowed only if they did not result in new production. “Get your zoning right - make sure your zoning comports with that of the General Plan,” Chase said to the council in reference to Venoco. After further discussion, Goleta’s City Council eventually voted unanimously to initiate a study of the amendments.

Part of the dispute between Venoco and the city stems from the fact that Venoco considers its operation a legal nonconforming use, whereas Goleta sees facility expansion as something that would further move away from General Plan parameters and impinge even more upon what it says should be an open, recreational area.

The only member of the public to offer comment on the proposed amendments to Goleta’s General Plan was Connie Hannah from the Santa Barbara League of Women Voters. She used her three minutes at the podium to highlight the environmental and health threats posed by the Ellwood Marine Terminal. “That line was never intended to be a common carrier for any other oil company,” she said, referring to Venoco’s plan to use its existing pipeline for expanded production. Kirby countered that the City of Goleta does not have jurisdiction over the Venoco pipeline, which is regulated by the State Public Utilities Commission.

Before casting their votes, members of the council voiced their support for the initiation, with Councilmember Michael Bennett calling the study a “win-win situation” for area residents and Venoco alike. Chase said that after investigation by city staff, the issue is slated to be back on the council agenda sometime in May or June.

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