Homework Time at Goleta’s City Hall
Pictured above is an access trail to Haskell’s Beach near the Bacara.
After months of study and public workshops, we now have 317 pages of staff analysis and recommendations on the proposed Goleta General Plan amendments. It is homework time for the Goleta City Council.
Until now, the council majority has basically deferred to staff recommendations for the General Plan amendments. Council has not discussed individual amendments, despite Councilmember Eric Onnen’s statement last March that some “culling” was needed.
Now it is culling time, and councilmembers need to list their priorities. The public has clearly told them there should be few changes and that it is critical to preserve the values inherent in the existing plan. The council needs to show that it has heard this message.
On the positive side, planning staffers recommend dropping 11 proposed amendments from further consideration. Another 20 are minor edits that do not alter the intent of a policy. And they are recommending retaining in a number of policies the enforceable “shall” rather than the more discretionary “should.” A major concern of the public expressed at the workshops was that the use of “should” would leave a policy with no teeth. (For more background on this, see independent.com/goletaplan.)
Despite the overwhelming public input opposed to major change, there are still more than 50 significant amendments proposed for further consideration.
The option of more regional shopping centers continues to be recommended as opportunities for “beneficial” uses. One may ask, “Beneficial to whom?” Not to hometown businesses in competition with big-box outlets. Not to people who have to fight additional traffic generated by such centers. And where would they go? In the 22 acres across from the Camino Real Marketplace, now zoned for housing? Or in Old Town, as some have suggested, which would result in a major transformation of that area?
Staff recommends continued study of around 30 amendments initiated by the Bacara. The resort has plans to build more than 60 condominiums, some as timeshare units, in the area of the current public parking lot and beach access trail. It wants the option to move these facilities to another location and to limit hours of public access to the parking lot and Haskell’s Beach to sunrise to sunset, rather than 24/7 as currently required by the Coastal Commission. A strong case can be made that these changes should be processed as part of Bacara’s project application, rather than being addressed now by city staff.
The Conservation Element is a lynchpin of the General Plan, expressing the concern of Goletans for protecting and preserving environmental resources in an increasingly urbanized area. The staff report proposes that a Citywide Habitat Management Plan be developed, with a number of policies flowing from this. The General Plan is replete with policies for buffers and protections for different habitats: creeks, wetlands, monarch roosts, raptor nests, native woodlands, etc. Determining a scientific basis for these buffers and identification of environmentally sensitive habitats would be helpful and validating. But it is essential that, in the interim, current policies remain in place as the guiding framework for the plan and subsequent zoning ordinance.
These are just a few of the concerns raised by this report. It can be seen online at goleta.govoffice.com with a hard copy available at City Hall (130 Cremona Dr., Ste. B, Goleta).
It is good to see some amendments dropped, the retention of “shall” in several policies, and a number of changes that are minimal in impact.
But major issues remain, and councilmembers need to do two things: First, review staff recommendations in the context of the clear sentiment expressed by the public for only minimal plan changes; and second, give guidance now to pare down proposed amendments to just the few they believe should move forward.
The public will have the opportunity to address the council on these issues at a special meeting on January 17, at 6:30 p.m., and later, in March, when there will be Planning Commission hearings on the proposed changes.
Note that the Housing Element is on a separate track and will be considered later in the spring.