Conceptual view of the parkland above and Highway 101 running through a proposed tunnel through Ventura

© Roesling Nakamura Terada Architects, Inc.

Conceptual view of the parkland above and Highway 101 running through a proposed tunnel through Ventura

Goleta of the Future

Good Growth Isn’t Science Fiction

The caller said, “Are you the person who’s been writing about all the growth in Goleta?”

I cautiously responded, “Yes … ”

The voice said, “I’m calling to let you know that I’ve seen the future, and Goleta’s will be spectacular!”

“Oh, so you’ve seen the future? How’s that medical marijuana working for you?”

“All I can tell you is that, under the auspices of UCSB’s Physics department, I’ve had a brief visit to Goleta in the future.”

Playing along, I said, “Okay, tell me all about it.” Here’s what he said:

“Goleta of the future is the jewel of the South Coast, remarkable for the promenade through its center corridor. Its flower and tree-lined paths border a beautiful mix of local businesses, shops, and outdoor cafés and restaurants, plus incubator space for startups. Great residential and permanently affordable housing exist as both rentals and owner-occupied. Numerous public swimming pools, soccer fields, dog parks, community gardens, a Chumash heritage center, and many permanent open spaces are thronged with people. And, of course, there’s a new Goleta City Hall.

Everything is linked by walking paths, bike paths, speed-controlled surface streets, and a trolley running its length, with spur lines to Goleta Beach, the airport, and UCSB. And many of the north-south streets crossing it link the mountains to the ocean.”

“Sounds literally incredible,” I said. “Uh, I have a few questions. What got knocked down to make all this happen, and where did you get all the freeway crossings?”

“Let’s back up,” he responded. “Back in 2016, Goleta’s City Council faced a dilemma. All the approved and planned growth was using up all the road capacity, and too little space and funding existed for needed housing, commercial buildings, and recreation. Meanwhile Highway 101 dividing our community was increasingly crowded and dangerous.

Then someone brought up the success of Seattle’s just finished Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Tunnel. This four-lane, two-mile tunnel carried State Route 99 under downtown Seattle, in one swoop replacing the viaduct that divided Seattle and opening up all that valuable open space for other community needs.”

“Are you saying Goleta did the same thing?” I asked. “Rerouted Highway 101 underground? Impossible!”

“Why impossible? Besides Seattle, haven’t you heard of Boston’s Big Dig or the Chunnel between England and France?”

“Oh, you mean how some California cities are considering ‘capping’ their freeways and building something on top? I hear that there are efforts in Los Angeles and in Ventura.”

“Those options work best when the freeway is already running below ground level. Goleta’s mostly are at ground level already.”

“What about the water table?” I wanted to know. “Wouldn’t a tunnel under the 101 be below sea level and constantly flooding?” I pointed out.

“We’re not talking about mission-to-Mars technology,” he said. “Even back in the 20th century there were many even longer undersea tunnels, carrying literally millions of passengers, all dry.”

With the skepticism of a Boy Scout on his second snipe hunt, I said, “Where’d they get the funding for rerouting 101 underground?”

“Seattle’s cost $4.25 billion. But $2.8 billion came from the state and federal governments to cover the tunnel boring and a new interchange. The rest was financed with tolls and loans for repayment by future users.”

“Where did Goleta get that kind of money?”

“Well, Goleta’s feasibility study noted that 250 acres of prime California real estate was recoverable if they put underground the seven miles of freeway and railroad track running through Goleta,” he answered. “At $1 million per acre, it raised a quarter of a billion dollars just to start. And it created a blank canvas to unify Goleta and meet the city’s transportation, housing, and community services needs.”

“You mean that reclaimed land funded the entire underground tunnel?”

“No, but it was a great downpayment. Just like the tunnel under the English Channel, Goleta created a Public-Private Partnership. Caltrans and the state chipped in because it would result in a better and safer freeway,” my caller explained. “Investors were interested because it would become profitable as the land was developed. Plus, there were several other new sources of ongoing revenue to the City of Goleta against which it could borrow. You know, in 2014, only 20 years after completion, the $8 billion Chunnel became profitable and actually doubled its dividend to investors.”

“A public works project that generates revenue? How’d they figure that out?”

“Well, first, there’s all the property and sales tax revenue from the new development,” he said. “Then there’s additional revenue from the sale of electricity from all the solar cells running the entire stretch. The city pitched in the savings from reducing the cost of further widening and maintaining Hollister Avenue. Then there’s the sale of tax credits from easily collecting CO2 and other gases from the underground freeway. And don’t forget the huge revenue from the sale of water.”

“Um, in case you haven’t heard, we’re in a drought here in 2014. Don’t tell me it rained so much in the future that we could sell water!”

“No, rainfall patterns didn’t change. But while the massive tunnel borer was here, it was relatively easy to create underground cisterns to collect the massive rain runoff from hillsides and the freeway. Goleta became a major source of enough water to both serve the added development and to be sold for revenue.”

“Any other sources of revenue?” I asked.

“Sure. The City of Goleta developed such wonderful cachet that it licensed its valuable trademarks to merchants, the renamed Goleta Airport and University of California at Goleta, and anyone else wanting to use its name and images. Plus there were tremendous revenues from the crops grown on Bishop Ranch, with some of the plentiful water.”

“What are they growing to garner such big revenues? Dark chocolate?”

“No, silly. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce just one pound of chocolate. Following Colorado, California had legalized marijuana. It’s a crop that does well in poor soil, and multiple crops are grown per year, especially given our 300 days of sunshine. The trademarked ‘Goleta Goodland Grass’ (aka G3) name became a high demand item and a lot more profitable than lemons, walnuts, and avocados.”

“I can tell you’ve been sampling it. Say, how long were you there in the future? You’ve brought back so much information!”

“Only about five minutes. Information technology didn’t stand still either. While in the future, I got in touch with the publisher and editor in chief, Yamamura and Hoffman, of The Santa Barbara Independent,” he chuckled. “They let me use their Brain Injection Technology (BIT) to transfer their entire archives to me instantly.”

When I woke up, I wondered how much of what I had heard was fantasy or a dream premonition of possibilities. Only time will tell.

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