Goleta’s Tug of War

City Council Candidates Fight Over Fast Growth vs. Slow

by Martha Sadler • Photographs by Paul

The Goleta City Council race pits three incumbents who have
served since the city’s 2002 incorporation against three
challengers who accuse them of being too slow-growth. Goleta
voters, eager for cityhood, swept Cynthia Brock, Margaret Connell,
and Jack Hawxhurst into office as part of the city’s first council,
along with Jonny Wallis and one lone pro-growther, Jean Blois. Just
two weeks ago, this council put the finishing touches on a
meticulously crafted General Plan that cements slow-growth policies
into Goleta’s very foundation. However, even though the entire plan
may be certified by the state before the election, there is still
ample opportunity for pro-growth candidates — if elected — to
debilitate it through the writing of the city’s zoning

Two of the three challengers — Michael Bennett and Eric
Onnen — share a vision for Goleta’s future that differs markedly
from that of the incumbents. If they were both elected, they would
form a majority with Blois, whose pro-growth advocacy has so far
rendered her the ineffectual fifth wheel on the founding council.
Blois has endorsed both Bennett and Onnen; so has the South Coast
Political Action Committee, reflecting the positions of the Goleta
Valley Chamber of Commerce leadership. The third challenger is
Roger Aceves, who stands on the slow-growth side of the battlefield
but says he seeks to temper the council’s more extreme

The citizens of Goleta overwhelmingly voted for slow growth when
they incorporated as a city. But that mandate seemed less clear two
years later, when, in 2004, Blois and Wallis stood for re-election.
In that race, Blois placed first, while slow-growther Wallis was
almost unseated by a pro-growth challenger who came in half of a
percentage point behind her. It could be that voters were impatient
with the ambiguity and delay they faced in trying to make home
improvements before the city’s policies were clarified and its
bureaucracy erected. The 2004 results also hint that the Chamber of
Commerce efforts to promote a philosophy it calls “managed
growth” — contrasting with the current council majority’s “slow
growth” — may be paying off. Besides housing, other issues in the
race include the fate of agriculturally zoned parcels within city
limits, environmental protections, business opportunity, and
neighborhood character.

The Goleta General Plan proposes to allow development during the
next 20 years at the same rate that the area was developed during
the past 20 years. One of the plan’s linchpin strategies for
slowing the growth rate is the housing policy known as 55 percent
inclusion. This controversial policy requires that, in order to
build condos along a key stretch of Hollister Avenue, developers
must offer 55 percent of the units at prices affordable to people
with very-low, low, and moderate incomes. Not only developers, but
affordable housing advocates have claimed the city’s 55 percent
inclusionary rule is nothing but a ruse for preventing new condo
development entirely. Fifty-five percent represents a strict
adherence to state mandates for Goleta’s fair share of state
housing needs, but critics insist the policy does not obey the
state so much as mock it with an overly literal interpretation.

All six candidates own homes in Goleta and raised families in
the valley. That’s where the similarities end.

The Incumbents 12.jpg

Cynthia Brock: Brock is a dyed-in-the-wool
environmentalist. A technical communications designer, Brock first
entered the public arena as a neighborhood activist seeking to
protect the Ellwood Mesa from overdevelopment. She played a key
role in that successful effort. Brock is alone among the candidates
in seeking the preservation of all agriculturally zoned lands — not
just as land banks for future development, but for urban farming in
perpetuity. Brock is the only candidate besides Hawxhurst to
support 55 percent inclusion. Countering critics’ claims that it
would simply halt all development, she noted that there has been an
application submitted to develop under the 55 percent rule.
Unfortunately, the application is for a piece of land — the Shelby
Farm — that the city has designated open space. Nevertheless, she
offers the proposal as proof that it can be done. Brock speaks of
wanting to preserve Goleta’s character as a city of relatively
small houses, but big outdoors. Use of the backyard year-round as
an additional room in the home is possible only in California, she
said, and a vital aspect of the Goletan way of life. (See cynthiabrock.org.)

Margaret Connell: A 17-year veteran of the
Santa Barbara School Board, Connell is widely regarded as the
council’s moderate. Connell is endorsing her two fellow incumbents,
even though she did not always vote with them. For example, she did
not vote in favor of Hawxhurst’s 55 percent rule. She favored
instead a 30 percent inclusionary requirement citywide, regarding
it as more doable. Connell favors in principle the construction of
workforce housing so that people can live where they work. Unlike
Brock, she is open to eventually developing agricultural parcels
along Hollister Avenue if they are shown to be nonviable as farms;
she regards the 265-acre Bishop Ranch as a probable future
development site after Hollister is built out to its maximum zoned
capacity. Connell said she is leery of breaking any ground at all
in the foothills, noting that once it starts it will be difficult
to stop and that it will not be affordable. Challengers criticize
the council for refusing to even consider transfer of development
rights (TDR) from Gaviota to the City of Goleta; TDR is a strategy
of allowing landowners to build in urban areas in exchange for them
not building on rural and wild lands. Connell echoed fellow
incumbents’ sentiments that Goleta did not incorporate so that it
could sacrifice its quality of life. “Let Hope Ranch take some
TDRs,” she said. (See margaretconnell2006.com.)

Jack Hawxhurst: Hawxhurst is a retired systems
analyst and small-business owner. He is also the architect of the
55 percent affordability rule. This, plus his surly impatience with
what he clearly considers spurious arguments from developers and
their attorneys during their presentations to the council, make him
the favored target of all three challengers. According to
Hawxhurst’s calculations, only 20 percent of the city’s workers or
residents can afford new market-rate condos. So when critics urge
the city to adopt a more reasonable 15 percent inclusionary rule,
like Santa Barbara, Hawxhurst just rolls his eyes. In his mind,
what good does it do Goleta to allow 30 market-rate units in
exchange for just five affordable units? “We don’t need high rises
or big boxes or 20 units to the acre in order to be successful,”
Hawxhurst said. “Believe me,” he continued, “I do understand that
they have been teaching in the universities for the past 20 years
that there is an efficient way to utilize land that is the better
way.” The currently accepted wisdom in land-use planning, dubbed
“smart growth,” encourages densely populated, transit-oriented,
walkable cities rather than sprawl into the surrounding open space
and ranch lands. “But it’s like art appreciation,” Hawxhurst said.
“You don’t start a Picasso in the corner of a Rembrandt that is 80
percent finished.” As for accepting TDR from Gaviota to the City of
Goleta, he said that Goleta became a city so that it would not
continue to be a dumping ground for developments unwanted elsewhere
in the South County. (See jackhawxhurst.com.)

The Challengers Untitled-1.jpg

Roger Aceves: Roger Aceves is a police officer
for the City of Santa Barbara whose résumé includes work as a
hostage negotiator and homicide detective. Aceves worked as a
sheriff’s deputy before switching to the SBPD, and ran for sheriff
in 2002. On growth issues, Aceves walks the middle ground. On one
hand, he calls the notorious 55 percent affordable rule for new
condo developments “ridiculous.” He believes that a 30 percent
affordability rate for new condo developments is reasonable and
more likely to produce workforce housing. On the other hand, he
doesn’t buy the dire warnings of lawsuits without end if the city
doesn’t open its arms to fast growth. Aceves has a low-key,
friendly conversational manner that belies his well-developed sense
of irony. “They’re going to sue! They’re going to sue!” Aceves
said, mocking the other challengers’ frequent allusions to risk of
lawsuits when the City Council has contemplated growth-inhibiting
ordinances. “Do they know something we don’t know?” Aceves asked.
“Maybe [Michael and Eric] should start dropping some names.” The
city has every right to make land-use policies, Aceves contended;
however, the city must allow new tax-generating housing and
businesses at a faster rate than is provided for in the general
plan in order to support more parks and other amenities. Aceves
said he wants to make Goleta “the world’s safest city,” and wants
to see the same officers always patrolling a particular
neighborhood. He would like to institute regular neighborhood
meetings not only with police but also with city officials in
various departments, including streets and sidewalks, so that
neighbors can tackle their issues together — and also tackle City
Hall together if necessary. (See rogeraceves.com.)

Michael Bennett: Michael Bennett’s new house
has become an issue in this campaign. He built it in the midst of a
well-preserved, vintage 1960s neighborhood of single-story tract
homes. However, Bennett is not one to succumb to nostalgia for
preserving Goleta as the way it was — his home is a large two-story
unlike anything else in the neighborhood (but he contends that once
its landscaping matures, its visual impact will be considerably
softened). The City Council enacted its current, more stringent
home-size restrictions after Bennett’s house was built. In
arguments regarding home sizes, proponents of larger houses often
claim they want more rooms in case their parents need to live with
them, a claim sometimes greeted with skepticism: In this situation,
Bennett’s mother already lives with him and his wife. Although one
of his next-door neighbors objected to the fact that his windows
now look down onto her backyard pool, she accepted his offer to
compensate her by paying to underground her utility lines, and he
keeps his shades closed on that side of the house. In common with
Eric Onnen, Bennett supports landowners who wish to develop parcels
currently zoned as agricultural. These landowners disagree with the
farmers who lease the land from them, the residents who value the
farms in their neighborhoods, and the recently completed Goleta
General Plan. As for Bishop Ranch, Bennett feels the community
should participate in deciding what kind of development occurs
there, but the property owner has a right to profit.

Bennett is a recently retired battalion chief for the Santa
Barbara County Fire Department. He won the post of mayor in
Goleta’s first cityhood election, but never served because that
year, the cityhood proposal itself went down to defeat. The Chamber
of Commerce named him man of the year in 2006. (See michaeltbennett.us.)

Eric Onnen: Eric Onnen is the proprietor of
Santa Barbara Airbus, and the Chamber of Commerce elected him small
businessperson of the year in 2001. Onnen, like Bennett, also beats
the private property rights drum. Onnen talks about managing growth
to ensure Goleta’s quality of life, referring to the “small-town
feel: few traffic problems, semi-rural, with some open spaces.” Yet
Onnen derides the current council as no-growth. “If you can’t
create housing because that’s not allowed, then you can’t create
commercial, and then you don’t have a vibrant economy,” he said. He
is not saying the city needs growth, Onnen insists; he’s saying
that growth is inevitable and must be planned for. This includes
the construction of infrastructure, such as larger intersections
and overpasses for cars. “If we build the infrastructure to deal
with those impacts, what do we lose if the impacts don’t come?” he
asked rhetorically. “We don’t lose anything.”

Onnen said he would like to explore the idea of
worker-restricted housing to support local businesses. “Our biggest
housing problem is [that] the demand is not only local,” he said.
“So even when housing is created here, quite often we’re not
putting workers in it.”

Instead of obstructing, the council should engage in “open and
complete discussion with stakeholders.” For example, the General
Plan argues that the Hollister/Storke area — where some have been
calling for a big-box Target store and large-scale discount gas
station — is built out. Onnen objected to this. “If during the
discussion of [specific] projects the community decides there won’t
be any more building there, okay. But why take it off the table?
Why remove the tool?” Besides, according to Onnen, the city invites
lawsuits by telling landowners they can’t develop their land to its
full potential. “If you limit size and height so that something
won’t develop,” he said, “that’s a taking of rights and will
inevitably end up in a court battle, which is not what we

Goleta City Council Candidates
• Sat., Sept. 30, 2pm, Goleta Library, 500 N. Fairview Ave.,
Goleta, 964-7878. Sponsored by the Gray Panthers.• Thu., Oct. 5, 9am, Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center, 1118 E.
Cabrillo Blvd., S.B., 897-1983. Sponsored by the Santa Barbara
Association of Realtors.
• Thu., Oct. 5, 1pm, Maravilla, 5486 Calle Real, Goleta.
Sponsored by Goleta Tomorrow.
• Tue., Oct. 10, 7pm, Holiday Inn, 5650 Calle Real, Goleta,
964-6241. Sponsored by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.


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