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Reversal Of Fortune

Goleta Gets Development Friendly

By Martha Sadler Photographs by
Paul Wellman

Goleta-Lemons-CMYK.jpgMichael Bennett, Eric Onnen, and Roger
Aceves took the oath of office as members of the young City of
Goleta’s second City Council, replacing Cynthia Brock, Jack
Hawxhurst, and Margaret Connell. Goleta’s administrative staff
welcomed the new councilmembers with sparkling cider and a prettily
decorated sheet cake from Costco. The latter was dwarfed, though,
by the ornate, multi-layered pastry with thick butter frosting
delivered by the Bacara Resort and Spa, sent to celebrate the
pro-growth candidates’ ascension to power, along with a second
creation for sitting councilmember Jean Blois. The Bacara and Blois
both had every reason to feel festive, besides the fact that it was
Blois’s 79th birthday.

For nearly five years, ever since the City of Goleta’s inception
in 2002, Blois has voted in a minority of one, watching helplessly
as her four fellow councilmembers lovingly handcrafted a
slow-growth General Plan to guide the new city for the next 20
years. “The lone voice for business,” Goleta Valley Chamber of
Commerce CEO Kristen Amyx called her. Now the tables have turned,
and Blois was practically hoisted on the shoulders of her newly
elected colleagues, who also handed her the mayor’s gavel.

It is unlikely the Goleta City Council’s new majority will
actually tear the original council’s General Plan into little
pieces and toss it out the window, even though their campaigns
focused on attacking the plan and the process by which it was
created. “Actually, it’s a good plan,” said Bennett, shortly before
being sworn in on Monday night. “It just needs to be
corrected.”

He was singing a decidedly less conciliatory tune at his
election night victory party, when he was overheard saying to a
circle of supporters, “The first thing we do is get rid of
Cynthia’s butterfly.” Perhaps his objections to the city’s monarch
butterfly logo are purely aesthetic. However, it is difficult to
resist the symbolic implications. The butterfly is a specific icon
of the original City Council’s — and Brock’s — fight to preserve
Ellwood Mesa from development. In general terms, it represents the
city’s commitment to resist development pressures.

It remains to be seen whether the monarch will be replaced by
the clipper ship that graces the logo of the Goleta Valley Chamber
of Commerce, which led the charge to topple the incumbents. Chamber
CEO Amyx was the very first member of the public to speak to the
newly configured council, saying she looked forward to a close
working relationship in creating housing and commercial growth.
Irrespective of the butterfly logo’s fate, a new flag is flying
over Goleta’s City Hall.

New-Goleta-City-Council-CMY.jpgThe new councilmembers insist their
campaign contributions will not determine their decisions. However,
their pro-property-rights campaign positions seemed to parallel the
stance of major donors who want to develop land in the City of
Goleta. Most of these donations were funneled through the South
Coast PAC and Goletans for Fiscal Responsibility — both closely
associated with the chamber. Thanks to the efforts of these groups,
Bennett and Onnen, the two top vote-getters, outspent the
incumbents by more than two to one.

Besides pressure from their supporters, Onnen and Bennett face
pressure from their supporters’ lawsuits against the city. The
Bacara and several other would-be developers filed suit as soon as
the ink was dry on the General Plan. These lawsuits all charge the
plan is internally inconsistent and therefore invalid, echoing the
chamber’s accusation that the plan pretends to allow more
development than it really does. Restraints imposed by certain
parts of the General Plan — the noise element, the transportation
element, the housing element, and the Environmental Impact
Report — would stop most new development, or so the argument goes,
and those are the areas where Goletans can expect revisions to the
General Plan.

What follows is a prediction of things to come in Goleta’s near
future, based on the new councilmembers’ campaign platforms as well
as their campaign financial statements:

Housing: Expect to see lots of new housing on
Hollister. The newly seated majority opposed housing policies in
the General Plan. These require developers to offer 55 percent of
new housing at prices affordable to low-income and moderate-income
buyers. This requirement applies if the developments are located
along a key section of Hollister Avenue earmarked for high-density
development to satisfy state fair-housing mandates. In the rest of
the city, the General Plan requires 30 percent affordability. The
new councilmembers have said the 55 percent below-market
requirement makes new home building impossible. The Chamber of
Commerce has said it would support a 25 percent affordability rule.
Onnen and Bennett echoed that, while Aceves said during his
campaign that 30 percent seemed reasonable.

Bishop Ranch: This is a 290-acre block of
fallow agricultural land that lies south of Cathedral Oaks Road
between Glen Annie and Los Carneros roads. The owners wanted to
develop it, but the outgoing City Council majority wouldn’t let
them — they earmarked Bishop Ranch in the General Plan for
agricultural use only. There is reason to believe that the new
majority will be friendlier to the owners’ plans for the land:
Blois and Bennett took part in community-participation brainstorms
for its use. A brochure published in 2003 presents an initial
conceptual plan calling for 1,500 homes, a 24-acre public park, and
neighborhood shopping.

Blois-Cake-CMYK.jpgShelby Property: Once a
14-acre avocado orchard farmed by the Couvillan family, these 13.9
acres are located north of Cathedral Oaks Road, a few hundred yards
west of Bishop Ranch. The original City Council kept the land’s
agricultural designation despite the objection of its owners, the
Shelby Family Partnership LLC, which has said it wants to build
housing there. In fact, the partners showed the city a plan made up
entirely of affordable workforce housing, but to no avail. The
owners filed suit against the city in the wake of the General
Plan’s adoption. It is likely they will find it unnecessary to
pursue that lawsuit. The Shelby partnership donated $16,400 to
Onnen and Bennett’s campaigns.

Hollister Avenue & Las Armas Road: The Oly
Chadmar Sandpiper General Partnership seeks to build 111
residential units on a 14.5-acre parcel at Hollister Avenue and Las
Armas Road. A $32-million lawsuit brought by Chadmar was heard by
the California Supreme Court in October. The Court of Appeal had
earlier ruled the City of Goleta was within its rights to reject
the development because the permit was issued by a lame-duck county
government after the people of Goleta voted to incorporate as a
city. All parties still await the Supreme Court ruling, but even if
it goes against Chadmar, the parnership now has a chance of getting
its development approved by the city.

Bacara Resort & Spa: The Bacara has
preliminary plans to create another 62 rentable condos adjacent to
its current buildings. The Bacara insists this extension was part
of the hotel’s original development approval. In preliminary
negotiations, the original council was pursuing Haskell’s Beach
public access agreements in exchange for even considering these new
plans. When the matter appeared on the agenda immediately following
the election, newly lame-duck councilmember and Bacara watchdog
Hawxhurst dramatically pulled the item off the table.

Mathilda & Ellwood Beach Drives: Owner Alan
Gottlieb wants to trade his vacant parcel — replete with wetlands,
a stream, and monarch-harboring eucalyptus trees — or be
compensated for it. It was zoned for five homes when it was under
county jurisdiction, but the original City Council designated it as
parkland. Gottlieb said comparably sized properties host 8-14
homes.

Overpasses: The outgoing council included two
freeway overpasses in the transportation element of the General
Plan for bicyclists and pedestrians. The chamber strenuously
objected that any overpasses should also accommodate cars, and the
new council majority shares that point of view. These overpasses
and other transportation infrastructure expansions will literally
pave the way for other projects that at present are little more
than a gleam in the eye of developers. Insubstantial for the time
being, however, is funding to build overpasses.

Mobile Homes: The original City Council
defended rent control in the city’s mobile home parks, engaging in
a long court battle against Rancho Mobile Homes owner Daniel
Guggenheim, who sued to eradicate rent control laws. The city’s 450
mobile home residents will now ask the City Council to help them
battle a new threat — namely, the park owners’ intention to get out
of the mobile home business and build condos instead. Guggenheim
has so far reported $9,800 in donations to Onnen and Bennett.

Venoco Oil & Gas: Venoco, which has
reported $10,000 in donations to Onnen and Bennett, is looking at
the possibility of slant drilling from Platform Holly for transport
to its Ellwood onshore facility. It has also applied to the State
Lands Commission for permission to reactivate an old oil pier east
of the Bacara at Haskell’s Beach.

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