Despite its loss of vigor and blurred vision, Goleta’s General Plan had hinted at a vague hope for Goleta’s future during my last visit. On today’s visit the Plan appeared in stable but still critical condition. Greeting the Plan with a handshake, I said, “You seem a little cheerier today. What’s up?”
The Plan grinned very slightly. “The docs have diagnosed the problem. Turns out that General Plans are subject to many infectious attacks. To get well I’ll need the support of my friends to stick to a rehab regimen the rest of my life.” The Plan’s tight grip confirmed my understanding that by “friends” it meant me and the community.
The Plan continued, “The doctors have prescribed a strict medical procedure known as ‘VIP,’ and any deviation will be life threatening. First, let’s talk about VOTING.”
“To me, ‘vote’ is a real four-letter word. What difference would my one vote really make when there are about 30,000 other Goletans?” I asked.
“Look,” sighed the Plan. “Three or four of the five City Council seats are up for election in November 2014*. It takes only three votes on any Tuesday to mess with me again. Plus, the council appoints people to the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board, and their decisions matter.
“As for whether your vote matters, more morphine please! Only about 15,000 Goletans are registered to vote, and usually only about half of them actually vote. Some Goleta elections were won with less than 5,000 votes and some with only a 55 vote margin. Voting is the best, cost-free prescription for putting me and Goleta back on the road to recovery.”
“Hmmm. Voting. What a concept,” I thought.
“Let’s move on to ‘I,’ as in INFORMATION to fend off any new attacks or infections,” said the Plan.
I asked, “How do we do that?” while my brain was thinking, “I’m already too busy — job, family, friends, Netflix, surfing … ”
The Plan replied, “Well you can go online and request free email notices about Goleta City Council and other boards and committee meetings, agendas, and staff reports. This will provide early warning if a proposed project is seeking another assault on my health.”
“Hmm, that sounds like a lot of reading. And some of those agendas and reports can be long and hard to understand, like reading ‘30 Shades of Techno-speak.’”
The Plan coughed, emitting a sound like “WIMP!” but continued: “Relax, you don’t have to do it all alone. Lots of local organizations have ‘specialists’ who identify early symptoms and possible remedies. Here are some of the well-known ones: Citizens Planning Association, Santa Barbara County Action Network, The Goodland Coalition, Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, and the Old Town Community Association (firstname.lastname@example.org) — which is a new one.”
“Um, hold on,” I said. “Didn’t the Goleta Chamber support the very General Plan changes that supported all this Goleta growth. Why contact them?”
The Plan sighed and said, “Businesses are starting to recognize that impacts of recent changes, especially traffic congestion, threaten their survival. For example, many local businesses were actually relieved that the McDonald’s drive-through at Storke and Hollister was turned down on a 3-2 City Council vote, stopping even more traffic at one of Goleta’s most congested areas. Some local business people have begun to recognize that growth has its limits.”
“What about technical environmental issues? Talk of setbacks, habitats, and bio-swales gives me hives,” I complained.
“Okay, I get it. If I just vote, get information about what’s happening, and send these organizations money, they’ll do the rest.”
“Sometimes you make me sick! It was just that kind of attitude that nearly knocked me out!”
“Uh-oh, your blood pressure’s rising. What can I do to help you feel better? Valium-laced cookies? A Prozac shake?” I inquired.
“The most important thing you can do … ” said the exasperated Plan through clenched teeth, “…is ‘P.’”
“Pee?” I asked.
“No, P as in PARTICIPATE. Just voting every two years is not a lifetime inoculation. Between elections I feel like a Petri dish, a condominium for infectious attacks. If I’m threatened, call your councilmember, write emails, or go testify at hearings, and actively participate in some of the groups I referred to. Your actions must show that you care what happens, by supporting Goleta officials when you agree and holding them accountable when you don’t.”
“So there’s no magic bullet or wonder drug to bring you back to health?” I said.
“Nope. You and the community must vote, get informed, and participate, or I’m not long for this world.”
Now I could see that without this treatment, the Plan was certain to wither away. But with the prescribed treatment there’s a good chance for recovery. As I left feeling somewhat inspired and optimistic, the Plan drifted off to sweet dreams of a better Goleta.
* With Councilmember Ed Easton potentially moving outside city borders, his seat could be appointed and/or filled in the next election.
Guest columnist George Relles is a 24-year resident of Goleta.