If a project is proposed and less people are noticed by snail mail, will it still make a sound?
That question was before the Goleta City Council on Tuesday, as the planning staff proposed policy changes to reduce the amount of letters sent out to neighbors of a proposed development while simultaneously enhancing the city’s noticing process via more online publicity and the use of bright yellow placards on the project property, as is done in the City of Santa Barbara. Specifically, planning director Steve Chase asked that the council reduce the mandatory noticing to property owners within a 300-foot radius of a project; previously, that distance was 500 feet for residential projects and 1,000 feet for commercial ones.
During his presentation, Chase used the example of Kragen Auto Parts in Old Town. The owner is changing the name to O’Reilly’s, but now must spend hundreds of dollars to send out more than 600 notices to neighbors just to change the name on the sign. Many of those notices will simply be returned to sender, said Chase, and many others simply won’t be read by their recipients, making for a colossal waste of time and money for project applicants. “We want people to know about what’s going on around town,” said Chase, “but we want to do it more effectively.” A better online outreach program teamed with the easily recognizable project signs on-site of proposed developments would do that, he argued.
But Goleta gadfly Barbara Massey disagrees. “The real reason is that they want to cut back on public noticing because they want less input,” she said in an interview before the council meeting on Tuesday. “It has become abundantly clear that the city council majority is not at all interested in what public has to say.” She fears that the reductions will allow more projects to proceed silently and without proper scrutiny, and argued as much before the council on Tuesday.
Joining Massey on Tuesday was a handful of other people critical of the policy change, all of whom complained that the city’s website was too confusing to navigate properly. “The website is not a complete panacea to the problem of informing people,” said Goleta resident Vic Cox, who contributes to Independent.com’s Goleta Grapevine column. Cox explained that may citizens are older people who are not web savvy and won’t be able to sign up for email alerts or find the agendas online.
The only councilmember agreeing with their concerns was Margaret Connell. Although she was okay with reducing noticing on all project to 500 feet, Connell said she feared the bigger cut because many residents don’t know what’s happening in their neighborhood until they get a letter in the mailbox that wakes them up. “For those citizens who are trusting us to do the right thing but not following us day-by-day and week-by-week,” said Connell, “I would not want to see noticing reduced any further.”
The other councilmembers praised the signs and the movement toward the web as the future. The policy changes passed with a 4-1 vote, with Connell the lone dissenter.