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Goleta Zoning a Test of Democracy

Rush to Overhaul Goleta Land Use Rules Risks Public Support


On March 20, the City of Goleta Planning department presented its consultants’ summary of environmental issues and topics inherent in the proposed overhaul of the city’s land use rules. This was not televised on the government channel, and only eight or nine local residents were present. It was labeled an “environmental scoping” meeting to gather community views on themes close to the hearts of Goletans.

Vic Cox

Those present, including me, were allowed time to ask questions and voice concerns after the URS Corporation consultants outlined environmental elements affected by the new Zoning Ordinance, currently in the planning stages. Based on the modified General Plan and Coastal Land Use Plan from 2006 and 2009, the 13 topics chosen ranged from “aesthetics and visual resources” to “water resources” to “transportation and circulation.”

Beyond raising a few points on each topic, however, no specific information was provided about what the possible changes might be. Due to technical problems, no maps were projected in the City Council chamber during the roughly 90-minute meeting. Most of those who spoke felt the whole process was being rushed and failed to encourage public participation. (Readers can now go to GoletaZoning.com and see the PowerPoint presentation, with current but not proposed zoning maps.)

No mention was made in the URS presentation of wildlife corridors, earthquake and tsunami hazards, or buffer zones between residential and wild lands. I’m not a zoning wonk, but this seems like no way to treat a Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR), much less claim to base it on citizen input. By the way, written comments are due to Anne Wells on the DEIR no later than noon on April 11. (Write to her here: Advance Planning Manager, City of Goleta, 130 Cremona Dr., Suite B, Goleta 93117, or email awells@cityofgoleta.org.)

Granted that commenting on sketchy draft ordinances without knowing how they influence the total zoning code, much less the existing General Plan and Coastal Land Use Plan, can seem like an exercise in futility. You cannot gauge if the comment is relevant or if it is effective. But concerned residents should try.

Other gaps in the zoning information presented on the city’s website GoletaZoning.com include a draft administrative module (Module 1) that fails to define the roles of the Design Review Board, the Planning Commission, and the council. This module gives many powers to a Zoning Administrator but few checks on that power beyond an expensive appeals process. Two more modules, and hopefully a completed first one, are yet to come.

A sign of the limited public outreach so far is that apparently neither this newspaper (or its website) nor the Noozhawk received an announcement of the March 20 meeting, though it was buried in the Santa Barbara News-Press legal notices. Even if notices were mailed — many of my neighbors did not receive them — the tiny turnout was comment on their effectiveness. The only other public meeting was on March 10, some 40 minutes before a Planning Commission meeting. It was billed as an “open house” with Michael Dyett, chief consultant from San Francisco-based Dyett and Bhatia. Apparently it counted as a scoping session, but very few citizens attended.

On March 20, several speakers asked senior planner Wells the reason for rushing the process. Her response was that the City Council, in signing the consultants’ contract last year, had set the timetable, which now was in motion. Planning Department Director Jennifer Carman added that other opportunities for public comment on the entire draft ordinance would occur in July and on the codes’ final form in August and September.

Since last month, Carman’s department has announced three new Monday evening sessions in the council chambers to discuss sections of the proposed zoning ordinance: April 7, from 5-6:30 p.m.; April 28, from 5-6 p.m.; and May 12, from 5-6 p.m. Go to GoletaZoning.com, and click on “participate” to fill out a form to receive email notification of upcoming meetings.

In 2012, 71 percent of Goletans who went to the polls passed a measure, known as G2012, requiring public approval any time the City Council permitted development on ag land parcels above a certain size. Once again Goletans must decide if they will exercise control over the city’s future or if local democracy is to be just a spectator sport.

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