The would-be developers of Bishop Ranch are beset or blessed, depending upon how you look at it, by neighbors intensely interested in traffic impacts on surrounding streets. The Larwin Company holds development rights for the 240-acre agricultural parcel, now sporting little but grass and trees, which lies north of Calle Real and east of Glen Annie Road.
The Larwin Company’s Bishop Ranch Team held its fourth two-hour public planning session on Thursday, November 8, with four more workshops to come as the Encino-based corporation tries to rally popular enthusiasm for 1,200 new homes on the former orchard. That is more than a tenth of the 11,486 homes that now exist in the City of Goleta. The development would also include an eight-acre commercial center – planned to be about the size of the Gelson’s center on outer State Street – said traffic engineer Derek Rapp, of Penfield & Smith, a Santa Barbara-based engineering and surveying firm. Although the land is now zoned for agriculture, according to Goleta’s 2006 General Plan, the slow-growth council that wrote that plan has since been replaced by a council far more sympathetic to the tract’s development. Larwin is also responsible for the land north of Cathedral Oaks, which is still under cultivation with avocados and lemons. Larwin CEO Michael Keston said his company has no current plans to develop that land. Both segments of the historic Bishop Ranch are owned by the University Exchange Corporation.
At the November 8 meeting the subject was traffic, and among the crowd of more than a hundred Goletans were those who favor no building on the site, those who would like to see development there, and everybody else in between. Following a presentation from Rapp, members of the public spent 90 minutes lining up at microphones on either side of the Goleta Valley Junior High Auditorium, asking questions, and, in many cases, rejoining the back of the line to ask a follow-up question. It was a tough crowd. Among them were Wayne Norris, chief scientist at BOSSdev, Inc., who tried unsuccessfully to get Larwin’s Bishop Ranch Team to project the number of car trips that would be generated by the development. “I don’t have a ballpark for you,” Rapp said, and wouldn’t until the developers know what the mix of condominiums and single-family homes will be. During Norris’s next turn at the mic, he offered some “napkin calculations” of his own, saying that at ten car trips a day for 400 single family homes, and seven a day for 800 condos or apartments, that worked out to 9,600 additional trips daily, 720 of them during morning rush hour and 960 during evening rush hour.
Most people were concerned that they would spend even more time than they already do waiting to get through Los Carneros, which is heavily used by UCSB students, and intersections on Glen Annie, where Dos Pueblo High School is located. Many said that the developers would have to extend Calle Real so that it connects Glen Annie and Los Carneros. However, resident Barbara Massey said it could not go through because there is a monarch site in the way, which lies on the creek bed that runs north and south on the property.
A number of speakers talked about ways to reduce the number of cars and their impact. Kristin Cothern said she hoped the development would reduce car trips by building bike lanes, which she emphasized must be safe. She would prefer for her son to bike to school, she said, but at present “that is out of the question” because he would have to share the road with cars traveling at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour. Deborah Scott and Jill Martinez called for electric cars and buses to be part of the traffic plan, and Martinez expressed confidence that Larwin Co. would do the right thing. “If you want to deal with traffic,” she said, “you can, and I’m certain you will.” Others were less sanguine. Steve Ferry, over the course of two turns at the mic, had very specific recommendations: Provide bike paths separated from car traffic by a buffer of native plantings; on surrounding streets, add bike and pedestrian paths over the freeway; add rail stations (one per mile) between Santa Barbara and Goleta. He also called for the use of porous pavements for parking lots and sidewalks, and bioswales to recapture runoff from the streets. “Can the developer afford this?” Ferry asked rhetorically. “Keep in mind that this is a billion dollar project.” Larwin CEO Michael Keston said that he intended that the project would meet basic Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards, which is the lowest on a four-step scale. The question is, which among the optional menu of LEED criteria for the basic certification will be included.
Some doubted that a commercial development at Bishop Ranch – in place of hundreds more homes, which Rapp said would reduce traffic trips on surrounding streets – could compete with the big box discount-retailers south of the freeway, such as Costco. “All you’ll get is a coffee shop and a dry cleaner,” said one critic, ticking off the names of failed department stores. Others wondered if a commercial center attractive enough to compete for business among the development’s residents wouldn’t add to congestion by also attracting people from outside the area. Rapp said the planning team was aiming for “that sweet spot” in which the stores would attract lots of business from inside the development without becoming a regional destination. “It’s not my area of expertise,” he confessed, “but there are people who know what they are talking about.” He said there would be further discussion about that.
Bob Craig suggested that Larwin Co. could be a benefit to the community by providing recreational access for hikers and mountain bikers through the avocado and lemon ranch to the foothill trails. In contrast to other cities and unincorporated areas of the South Coast, the Goleta Valley has no such access. However, Kestler said they could not do that because it would interfere with the ranch operations.
Somebody else asked if they were planning to build a grade school.
In response to such questions as, “What do you plan to do?,” Derek reiterated several times that “We have no conceptual plan yet,” because they want to hear from the community before developing one. The next workshop, which will involve discussion of parks and open space, is scheduled for Thursday, November 29 at 6 p.m. at Dos Pueblo High School; followed by a workshop on home citing, another on commercial citing, and a final meeting.