Developers Set Sights on Bishop Ranch

The much-anticipated Bishop Ranch application has now been filed at Goleta City Hall. A 240-acre parcel south of Cathedral Oaks between Los Carneros and Glen Annie roads, the ranch is zoned for agriculture in the Goleta General Plan and has been since the mid 1980s.

Margaret Connell

During the General Plan process three years ago, Encino-based Larwin Company ran a massive public relations campaign, generating hundreds of postcards in support of developing this site. The council at that time, of which I was a member, determined that it was preferable to place major housing sites south of the 101, along the Hollister corridor, close to work sites and transportation. In November 2007, following the election of new councilmembers, the Bishop Ranch group decided to try again. It invited the community to a series of workshops to seek input on what people would like to see on this property.

In a series of meetings, including a tour of the ranch, topics included housing, parks, open space, infrastructure, and commercial shopping areas. Around 100 people attended each session. It was made clear at the start that the question was not whether Bishop Ranch would be developed, but how it should be done.

Bishop Ranch 2000, through its managing agent J. Michael Nolte, is seeking initiation of a General Plan amendment to change its zoning from agriculture to “Mixed Use: Bishop Ranch.” This follows on the heels of the current council’s move to rezone the Shelby parcel on Cathedral Oaks from agriculture to residential.

The conceptual plan includes approximately 1,195 residential units, seven acres of neighborhood-serving commercial, 83 acres of passive city parkland, and approximately 17 acres of active parkland for sports. The housing would be a mix of single-family, high-density residential, condos, and townhouses. There would be 240 affordable units at an inclusionary rate of 20 percent. (Hollister Avenue sites, meanwhile, require a 30 percent inclusionary rate.)

The developer claims that Bishop Ranch has not been used for agriculture for at least 50 years, other than some failed efforts in the mid ’80s. However, an aerial photo from 1935 shows orchards covering most of the site. With viable orchards on three sides, it seems improbable that it could not have been productively farmed if there were a desire to do so, though today water supply might be a problem.

Nolte also cites a letter from Bob Braitman, the executive officer of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO), who wrote while studying Goleta cityhood that LAFCO “declined to include lands planned to remain in agriculture or open space based on the view that only lands projected for urban use should be included in the city.” From this, Nolte concludes that “Bishop Ranch must be considered for urban use, as requested by this General Plan amendment initiations request.” But LAFCO does not make land use decisions; the Goleta City Council does.

There are things that are attractive about this proposal, if you accept that this site is ripe for development. It includes a variety of housing types, though few affordable to workers in Goleta. The area around the old ranch house, with many magnificent trees, would be preserved as a public park. A neighborhood shopping center is added north of the freeway. And Calle Real might one day join Los Carneros to Glen Annie, adding a much-needed east-west connector. But the traffic impacts would be huge, and at a time when local produce is in demand, it is tragic to contemplate the loss of agricultural land that could be farmed by a better farmer.

Michael Keston, CEO of the Larwin Company, has invested a lot in this enterprise. Although he’s from Los Angeles County, he should know better than to expect fast movement on this proposal in Santa Barbara County. Nonetheless, he projects getting permits in four years.

This discussion will continue with my online article next week, so tune in to on Monday, May 5, where I will explain my opposition to this project, which I also fought against while I was on the Goleta City Council.

Goleta Grapevine appears every Monday morning online at To contact the author, who helped craft the original General Plan during her time as a councilmember and as mayor, email


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