Tensions were high Monday night, July 8, at the City of Goleta’s Planning Commission hearing, where the topic of debate was neighborly love.
Approximately 30 residents approached the podium to voice their opinion on whether or not to let the Cambridge Drive Community Church have a temporary overnight camping permit, also known as a “safe parking permit.” The permit would allow those with prior approval to park their motor vehicle overnight in the church’s parking lot between the hours of 7 p.m. and 7 a.m., after which time the permit holder must vacate the premise until the following night. At the moment, only one person has applied to be part of the parking program. Only one other church in Goleta, the Community Covenant Church, currently has a similar permit.
Those who spoke in opposition to the program are worried about sanitation issues, the safety of the students at nearby Kellogg Elementary, and the character of the homeless people who would be sharing their street block. Said one resident, “There aren’t at any of these campsites at local parks and beaches, so why put one in a residential neighborhood?”
There were also some residents in favor of the permit, which had reached the Planning Commission after its prior approval by the Zoning Administrator was appealed. The supporters cast the permit as a moral issue, calling the church’s move an act of compassion necessary during unpredictable economical times. “What we are doing here is exactly what a church should be doing,” said Pastor Roy Donkin. Supporters called the program a “safe parking permit” instead of an “overnight camping permit,” and viewed the homeless as victims of society rather than threats to the community.
Amid the highly opinionated two-and-a-half hour debate, New Beginnings — a community outreach center in Santa Barbara that runs the program, which is designed to transition those struggling with homelessness back into housed society — attempted to enlighten concerned residents on how it will be maintained and controlled. New Beginnings insisted that sanitation is of the highest importance; that the vehicle occupying the parking lot must have adequate and sanitary bathroom facilities; that any vehicle with a permit must be licensed and insured; that there will be daily monitoring of the site and its persons; and, lastly, that a thorough background check will be run on any permit holder to ensure the saftey of those in the neighborhood. Residents will potentially know more about the person residing in the Cambridge parking lot than about anyone else in their neighborhood, said a New Beginnings representative.
By night’s end, the four planning commissioners (the fifth commissioner, former city councilmember Jonny Wallis, is recovering from a stroke) split their votes 2-2, which means that the permit is approved. The decision is final and not appealable to the Goleta City Council, although the concerned neighbors could approach the council with plans to amend the city ordinance that allows this program.