In the Eastern Goleta Valley-sometimes dubbed “Noleta” due to its unincorporated status-the community planning process has been in the works since 1993. And while it continued this week, most development looks to be stopping, at least temporarily. And the degree to which development will grind to a halt proved to be a contentious matter for area residents at Tuesday’s meeting of the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors, as supervisors voted to approve a resolution that would place a moratorium on rezoning in this area for the next three years, purportedly to allow the community there to finish formulating its general plan update without the pressure of significant development.
Many attendees and some supervisors expressed concern, however, at the inclusion of a loophole in the resolution that would enable development deemed to be for “public benefit” on grounds that this term could allow projects beyond the scope of actual public benefit. “It’s a very broad term, and subject to wordsmithing,” said Noleta resident Jack Armstrong in his comments to the board. Some speakers even accused 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf of reneging on her campaign promise to deny rezoning until the general plan update process is complete, saying that having any loopholes in the resolution that could allow development would be taken advantage of by developers.
The public speakers-of whom there were more than 30-seemed to be roughly split into two factions: one favoring the moratorium, and the other fearful that such a move would halt the development of much-needed affordable housing projects for low- and moderate-income individuals and families. One property in particular-a 17-acre parcel owned by the Metropolitan Transit District (MTD) and located on Calle Real-was the topic of much discussion. The County Housing Authority has explored the option of buying the property from MTD and using it to create public housing for individuals categorized as “low income” and “very low income.” The fact that this particular project proposes more than 400 units has raised alarm among neighbors who foresee unmanageable traffic congestion and approximately 1,300 more people living in the proposed units.
A large contingent of people opposed the moratorium resolution, saying that it would hinder efforts to provide the affordable housing that Santa Barbara County lacks. “Clearly, the South Coast needs more housing,” said Jerry Bunin, a spokesperson for the Home Builders’ Association of the Central Coast. “Forcing young families to leave or commute long distances is poor planning.” A number of employees from Cottage Health Systems were also on hand, saying that the lack of affordable housing keeps many Cottage employees from being able to live in Santa Barbara. Patrice Ryan, the vice president of Human Resources at Cottage Health Systems, stated that Cottage is having problems hiring clinical workers because people cannot afford to live here. However, Bob Reed, who lives at Forte Ranch overlooking the MTD property, criticized the proposed development as poorly planned, citing inadequate parking for its residents and the fact that it is in a floodplain.
Fifth District Supervisor Joe Centeno-who abstained from voting on the resolution-approved of the idea of a moratorium on rezoning, but said that the language in the resolution needed to be simpler to the point that it could not be left to someone’s interpretation. “I’m with you in spirit, but I’m going to abstain because I don’t like the language,” he said. The other four supervisors voted in favor of the resolution, but, citing the amount of time taken to hammer out general plans for Isla Vista and Santa Ynez, 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone said he was doubtful that the Community General Plan for the Eastern Goleta Valley could be completed in three years. County staff responded by stating that the General Plan for Noleta has been around a while and couldn’t be compared to the Isla Vista and Santa Ynez plans, which were begun from scratch. “Let’s get this thing done sooner than the three years allotted, if at all possible,” Centeno said.