Welcome to The Goleta Grapevine, Independent.com‘s new online column focusing on the Good Land that is Goleta. Written every week by former city councilwoman Margaret Connell – who was also Goleta’s first mayor – the column will be a mix of political discussion, social commentary, and colorful slices of Good Land life. Here is her first, about the City of Goleta’s general plan amendments. Tune in every Thursday morning for more, or just bookmark Independent.com/goleta today.
Big changes are afoot in the City of Goleta and it is time for residents to pay attention and get involved. A year ago, the previous city council – on which I served – adopted the city’s first General Plan. This document is like a constitution, creating founding principles for the future of our city, its housing, parks, environmental protection, roads, traffic, and so on.
A new council majority elected last November is now considering about 80 amendments to that plan that could significantly alter the future of Goleta and how it grows. The public is invited to discuss and give input on these changes at two identical workshops this coming Saturday, September 15. The first workshop will run from 9 a.m. to noon and the second from 12:15 to 3 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall, 130 Cremona Drive, Suite B.
To understand what is being proposed, you need to wade through 21 pages of fine-print planning language. I will try here to do a little translation and interpretation of the changes. (For details, go here.).
Let’s start with an example. The current general plan states, “Approvals of all new development shall require adherence to high environmental standards.:” The proposed amendment would change this “shall” to “should.” Would this allow approvals of developments that do NOT adhere to high environmental standards? Would Goleta residents want approval of projects that do not adhere to high environmental standards?
Similarly, in a policy on maintenance of creeks as natural drainage systems, there are five instances of protections being made discretionary by a change of “shall” to “should.” Santa Barbara Channelkeeper, in a recent newsletter, cites 34 substantive policy amendments ‘that would dramatically weaken protections currently granted to our creeks, wetlands, and other environmentally sensitive areas.”
Overall, there are 20 or more instances of policy wording being changed from “shall” to “should” or “may”, thus making many of the existing protections discretionary rather than absolute.
Changing all these “shalls” to “should” is seen by some as making the plan more flexible. But others fear that such changes make it easier for a developer to argue for lesser protection standards. Developers would have the money and resources to hire experts and public relations firms and lawyers to plead their case. Community members, lacking such resources, would have to show up for every controversy, relying on volunteer efforts to get the word out.
Additional changes propose studies of General Plan setbacks from Monarch butterfly roosts, raptor nests, creeks, and wetlands, which could lead to reduced protections for these areas. There are also proposed changes of “shall” to “should” regarding preservation of ocean and mountain views, compatibility of new development with existing neighborhoods, and requirements to mitigate interior and exterior noise levels in residential areas.
Other proposed changes would permit big box regional shopping centers anywhere in the city. Traffic policy changes could allow the addition of lanes and widening of intersections without regard to pedestrian and bicycle traffic.
There is concern that 33 of the 77 policies now before the council were initiated by the Bacara Resort and Spa. Among them are changes to allow time-share units and hotel condominiums, to limit beach parking access to sunrise to sunset instead of over 24 hours as it is now, allow relocation of beach access routes, and remove permit requirements for some private beach events. Many of the Bacara proposals are clearly designed to facilitate specific projects that the resort has underway.
It is clear that most of the proposed changes are intended to facilitate development. It is disturbing to see outside developers apparently driving what should be a community process.
Some claim that the new “flexibility” would remove road blocks and beneficially speed up the application process. Others believe that the lack of clearly defined standards may actually slow things down, leaving projects mired in endless hearings, challenges, and appeals.
It has been said that many of these proposals are intended to settle the numerous business and developer-initiated lawsuits against the General Plan. But one may question whether settling lawsuits is worth making concessions that may be contrary to the best interests of the community.
Councilmembers are facing an unprecedented number of possible changes to the General Plan. I urge Goleta residents to attend these upcoming workshops to speak out on these proposals and let the council hear the community’s vision for the future of Goleta.
This Saturday’s workshops are not the end of the process. There are follow-up workshops listed below, and later in the year there will be Planning Commission and City Council hearings. It is time-consuming, but it is important that people stay engaged for the long haul.
Goleta General Plan Workshops
At the Council Chambers, 130 Cremona Drive, Suite B Goleta
*Saturday, September 15: 9am-noon and 12:15-3pm (this is a repeat of the morning session.)
*Thursday, September 27: 6-8:30pm
*Wednesday, October 17: 6-8:30pm
Special Workshop on the Housing Element Amendments with Lynn Jacobs, State Director of Housing and Community Development
At the Council Chambers, 130 Cremona Drive, Suite B Goleta
*Friday,. October 5: 9 am-3pm
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