A split Goleta City Council voted 3-2 to allow the owners of Bishop Ranch to pay $85,000 for a study on the impacts of shifting the 240-acre parcel from agricultural land into a new neighborhood with as many as 1,200 homes, a commercial center, and other associated urban infrastructure. Although the city’s staff and three councilmembers argued that the study would finally deliver a factual basis with which to judge any development there, Councilmembers Roger Aceves and Margaret Connell opposed the move, arguing that Goleta doesn’t need more housing, that the city’s plate is already full with proposals, and that the study seemed too close to project initiation for comfort. Though the anti-development crowd was expected to speak out on Tuesday night, there was no public comment.
The study request was presented by planning director Steve Chase, who emphasized that the night’s decision was not on whether to start to initiate case processing, was not a measure of merits or deficits, and was not about approving or denying the project. Instead, Chase explained, it would move all the talk about Bishop Ranch “beyond supposition” and “into evidence-based dialogue.” The study would assess everything from stormwater capacity and archaeology to water rights and agricultural viability, the latter two being the stickiest of issues related to the property. “This is a precursor to get answers to very basic questions,” said Chase. “Let’s get some facts on the table.”
With that, the council seemed prepared to move the study along, with Ed Easton — considered to be one of the slow-growthers on the council — making the motion to approve the study and Councilmember Michael Bennett expressing support with his second of the motion. “We’ve never had the opportunity to have an independent source, controlled by the city, to do an investigative study to determine what the facts are,” said Bennett, admitting that he’d heard about water rights and agricultural viability issues many times over the years but never had any facts to examine.
But then Roger Aceves — who, like Bennett, is up for reelection this coming November — spoke strongly against the fact-finding “for a number of reasons.” Explaining that the project would amount to a “huge neighborhood,” Aceves explained, “There has to be an overwhelming need for this conversion.” He did not see the necessity.
Nor did Margaret Connell. “I’ve always objected to initiation unless you’re pretty sure you want to come out the other end,” she said, expressing that the study seemed like a step toward making the project a reality. “This is taking step, even though it’s not the final step, it’s taking a step that I’m not ready to take at this time.”
Mayor Eric Onnen was flabbergasted, asking why the council wouldn’t take the chance to get the facts before being faced with a later decision on what to do about the project. “Why wouldn’t we do that?” he asked multiple times, to which Connell replied that it still seemed too close to initiation.
Easton, who had made the motion, then jumped in again to reiterate his support of the study. “There isn’t any question whether we’re going to make a question about initiation at some point,” he said. “Given that, I would like to make a decision whether to proceed on a factual basis that is defensible.”
The council then voted 3-2 in favor of the study, which will cost the Bishop Ranch owners $85,000 in consultant fees and, according to Chase, another $15,000 in city staff fees. It will commence soon and be complete by next February.