The Good Land Grapples with Growth

Goleta and Noleta Both Seek to Retain Valley’s Suburban
Character

by Martha Sadler

Two seminal documents emerged from greater Goleta last week
declaring that region’s determination to do battle against
high-density development of any kind. On Wednesday, the Goleta City
Council conducted its final public hearing on the city’s first
general plan. On Saturday, the Goleta Visioning Committee, a county
advisory group, unveiled GVC 20/20, which the committee hopes will
serve as a blueprint for the unincorporated area east of the
city.

Goleta’s General Plan/Coastal Land Use Plan has been
meticulously crafted over the past four years by the city’s
original council. It limits the city’s development to one percent
of its acreage annually, which is about the same rate at which
Goleta has grown, on average, over the past 20 years. It calls for
only about one million square feet of commercial and another
million square feet of residential development over the next 20
years. One way in which the plan slows growth is by maintaining the
agricultural designation on all parcels currently being farmed,
whether or not the landowners wish to continue pursuing ag. The
general plan’s most controversial policy is the one governing the
fate of several large parcels along Hollister Avenue earmarked for
high-density housing. The council designated them high-density in
grudging obedience to state mandates. But the council included in
that high-density designation what some allege is a poison pill to
discourage developers from ever actually building on those
parcels — namely, a requirement that 55 percent of units in any
condo development must be affordable to people earning very low,
low, or moderate incomes. The general plan was skewered by the
Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce for setting the city “on a path
of minimal housing production, very targeted commercial industry
growth, and few new business opportunities.” However, the Chamber
claimed one significant victory Wednesday when councilmembers
narrowed the definition of wetlands and decreased the buffer zone
required to surround them.

Three days later, over in the eastern valley, the Goleta
Visioning Committee produced what was in many ways a mirror image
of the city’s plan. Second District Supervisor Susan Rose appointed
the 12-person GVC in response to accusations that she was
conspiring to sneak high-density housing into the eastern valley
without the consent of residents. Indeed, when the committee first
convened, anti-development activist Mary Whalen publicly predicted
that under the pretext of community participation, the group Rose
had appointed would be gulled into rubber-stamping her agenda. On
Saturday Whalen lauded the committee on the vision, which would
preserve all agriculturally zoned lands, institute strong
environmental protections, and limit future housing density to a
maximum of seven units per acre. Small farmers thanked the
committee for preserving ag parcels, through Givens Farm manager
Chris Thompson noted that all 60 of his workers commute daily from
Lompoc. Not everybody on the committee was satisfied with the
report: Eva Inbar suggested that she might author a minority report
objecting to the committee’s failure to acknowledge the need for
more affordable housing. One huge difference between the GVC’s
document and the city’s general plan is that the eastern valley
plan is strictly advisory. In order to see it adopted as policy,
the Coalition for Sensible Planning — a slow-growth advocacy
group — is doing everything it can to extract promises from Second
District supervisorial candidates Janet Wolf and Dan Secord, who
are competing to succeed Susan Rose when she steps down next
January. In addition, several speakers at Saturday’s meeting
advocated the formation of a permanent Goleta Valley planning
commission with powers at least as compelling as those enjoyed by
the Montecito Planning Commission.

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