Goletans’ concern over a proposed move of the area’s California Highway Patrol station to 7780 Hollister Avenue, between Ellwood Elementary School and the Hideaway housing development, began like a gentle rain. In less than two weeks it grew into a deluge of hundreds of critical comments to Sacramento. Pushback by residents won a promise of more information and an extension to June 1 for comments on the project’s Notice of Preparation (NOP), the first step in gathering opinions from the public.
Many in western Goleta objected to the location planned for the enlarged CHP compound, which would hold several buildings, up to 66 employees, vehicle repair bays, a fueling island, a 148-foot radio antennae, and a “truck check area” as well as “ancillary facilities.” Residents emphasized this had nothing to do with the law enforcement agency itself. Their main complaint was with the size, hazardous nature, and increased truck traffic from this insufficiently publicized intrusion into a residential neighborhood.
Some letters, including mine, had objected to a previous May 8 deadline and called for a more complete NOP detailing the project. An environmental law firm labeled the original April 8 notice “defective” because it did not fully describe the CHP project, was inadequately circulated, and incorrectly claimed the property had been “acquired.” The firm’s comments, written by attorney Ana Citrin, also pointed out that California environmental law demands specific steps before seeking authorization to purchase property, procedures she alleged were not met.
Jacqueline Cummings, spokesperson for the Department of General Services (DGS), the lead agency on the CHP relocation, confirmed part of the criticism. In a May 7 media interview, she revealed that the state is still negotiating the purchase of the 5.7-acre parcel.
Attempts to check these statements with Cummings and others in the DGS and CHP hierarchy failed. “We are not interested in granting an interview at this time,” Cummings wrote me. Likewise, I got no response by this column’s deadline from the project consultants, Oakland-based Horizon Water and Environment (known as Horizon H2O), which organized the April 16 information meeting at Ellwood Elementary School.
I wanted to learn the extent of Horizon H2O’s outreach and why the scoping session was so spectacularly unsuccessful in drawing an audience. Six people, including one from the city’s Planning and Development Department, reportedly attended the session. Santa Barbara Shores, The Bluffs, The Hideaway, and other nearby residential developments apparently received little, if any, notice of the meeting.
The school played no role in publicizing the event, Goleta Union School District Superintendent Bill Banning explained, because “(Horizon H2O) never asked for our help.” His office rented them the Ellwood multipurpose room, at cost, nearly three weeks before the scoping session.
Jennifer Parson, an environmental planner with DGS and point person for all public and agency comments, partly responded to the criticism. She announced on May 8 that the public scoping period was extended to June 1 at 5 p.m. She promised additional information would be posted “over the next few days” on the Horizon H2O website describing the site selection process, the environmental topics raised by the public, and the CHP’s need to relocate.
Parson was silent on requests for a new NOP and scoping meeting. She pointed to a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) coming sometime in October or November and pledged to have “a public meeting in the Goleta area” during its review period.
Even city staff said they received official notice only three days before the scoping session. Weeks after the NOP was issued, the Goleta public library, a designated depository, had not received it.
When staff briefed the Planning Commission on April 27, it told commissioners (and the public later through the Monarch Press newsletter as well as cable TV) that since the project was from a state agency, the city had no role in approving or permitting it. That message was repeated to those who asked City Hall or questioned councilmembers.
Mayor Paula Perotte said that the proposed project was not on the council’s radar. “I was as surprised as everyone [was] about this plan.” She added, “Local control is overruled by the State.”
Such a position is unacceptable to a number of residents, including T.P. Tevis and Steven Handelman, homeowners at The Bluffs, who first heard about the CHP project at a cooking club dinner. One diner, who thought the project “a done deal,” casually mentioned it to Tevis. She composed a protest letter and dispatched it that night through Nextdoor at Ellwood Bluffs, an invitation-only, neighborhood webpage.
“Not many have signed up [for the service], but I figured that each person who reads the letter would alert a friend,” she said. “That’s exactly what happened.” With help from neighbors and Nextdoor, Tevis and Handelman collected at least 100 signatures protesting the location and suggesting that airport-area lots should be considered.
In nearby Santa Barbara Shores, Shithi Kamal-Heikman spotted the message circulating on Handelman’s account and knew she needed more information. “I did my own research,” she recalled. “I decided that it was a bad idea” for this location so near her daughter’s school.
She drew up a petition and recruited friends and fellow Ellwood School mothers to spread the word. Four other women, including PTA officer Kathy Goeden, went door-to-door explaining the project’s problems and getting signatures. Most residents welcomed the information, but a few turned them away. “I appreciated Kathy’s company (during canvasing), ” said Kamal.
“I felt the city and the state let us down in the notification process,” she added. “But the mothers were great. There was such a feeling of togetherness.” She reported sending a minimum of 100 petition signatures to the state by the original deadline.
The Bluffs, Santa Barbara Shores, and The Hideaway were the activists’ primary targets, but Nextdoor spread the resistance wider. “I loved this function of social media,” Goeden said, but she attributed much of the rapid spread of awareness to Kamal’s grassroots campaign. “She went door-to-door in all three neighborhoods.”
Tevis and Kamal know that with the DEIR looming more organizing is necessary, and the NOP was but the first skirmish. But they are encouraged. “I am positive that there will be progress toward a healthier outcome,” said Tevis. “A movement has been born,” added Kamal.