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Saving the Nature Connection

Park, Ag Land Initiatives Embody Residents’ Hopes for Future


Sunday, May 6, 2012

A small group of Goletans gathered last month in the Goleta Valley Community Center (GVCC) in the first of three public meetings to help define what will become the city’s newest public park. The object of their desires is a four-acre parcel near the corner of Hollister and Kellogg avenues that is temporarily being called Old Town Park.

Bordered by San Jose Creek on the east and Kellogg Avenue on the west, the land was once a citrus orchard with residences. It has some mature trees near the creek, including a huge sycamore that grew from seven intermingled saplings and a cypress that is more than 100 years old.

Vic Cox

One of the workshop participants, Marcia Nielsen, grew up on the farm and played among the trees. She recalled that one of her favorites had a hollow branch that bees had transformed into a hive. She knew the tree lived still but did not know if the hive existed.

Unfortunately, a scheduled walk through the property—the city purchased it in 2011 for $2.6 million—was scrapped due to the start of construction of flood control features on the creek.

At the GVCC, city and contract planners from Van Atta Associates grouped us around tables and asked for activities that could fit the park. The tables held some children and college-aged youths as well as middle-aged and older folks.

Click to enlarge photo

Valerie Kushnerov/City of Goleta

Suggestions were listed on paper and taped to the walls where everyone had a chance to vote (with color-coded dots) on what features they wanted or did not want. For example, a lot of approval dots went next to the “no smoking” suggestion; the idea of a wall dedicated to graffiti art collected a number of disapproval dots. The younger kids suggested monkey bars and basketball courts while the older ones sought skateboard facilities.

Two other public meetings are planned to discuss how best to use the new park space and a $900,000 state grant to help equip it for active recreation. No date has been set for the next session, but city analyst Claudia Dato reports that a Thursday evening in late May or early June is most likely.

As Goleta prepares to add to its meager stock of outdoor recreational facilities in Old Town, preserving what is left of agricultural land within the city’s boundaries is the focus of residents calling themselves The Goodland Coalition. Led by retired water manager Bob Wignot, volunteers have fanned out across the city to gather residents’ signatures—at least 1,600 were needed by Sunday, May 6—to place the “Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative” on the November ballot.

If the initiative makes it to the ballot and is approved, it would provide residents a means to block any future City Council decision to allow residential development on agricultural parcels of 10 acres or more within the city. Should a council decide to permit residences on the 240-acre Bishop Ranch sometime in the next 20 years, for example, Goletans would have to ratify the approval before it could proceed.

Wignot estimated that six parcels currently zoned for agriculture would be affected if the initiative becomes law. These are remnants from when the Goleta Valley was mostly farms. “We should hold onto this uniqueness,” he argued. Owners of these properties would retain the rights they’ve always had under local zoning laws, he added.

At the same time, council majorities can shift from election to election. While the current council unanimously voted to keep Bishop Ranch zoned for agriculture, having this second check would mean that any zoning change through 2032 would require support from a majority of the city’s voters, not just three councilmembers.

“I feel fortunate to be living in Goleta now,” said Wignot, “so it seems important to me to pass on (part of the area’s heritage) to the next generation. Let them decide” how the land should be used. Exceptions for parks and schools are allowed.

At often hefty prices, government, private donors, nonprofits, and the public have saved some of Goleta’s gems, such as the Sperling Preserve, the Ellwood Butterfly Preserve, and Lake Los Carneros. However, the city’s total land preserved for parks and open space is roughly 480 acres, or only about twice the size of Bishop Ranch.

With intense residential and commercial development in the pipeline for the western end of Hollister Avenue, Nature continues to be diminished and fragmented in the Goleta Valley. This is not sustainable, and it has personal consequences.

As documented in Richard Louv’s new book, The Nature Principle, when humans lose access to the beneficial effects of Nature, we place our own mental and physical health in peril. (He will speak on this theme in a free lecture on May 15 at the Granada Theatre, 1214 State St.) It’s a message worth taking to heart.

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