In a year or two, anyone looking for a place to stay in Goleta will have several new choices. Already up and running is the 98-room Hampton Inn, which opened last July in Old Town next to the Goleta Valley Community Center. Coming next, though still in the planning process, is the Marriott Residence Inn, an extended stay hotel with 140 rooms, on the corner of Hollister and Robin Hill Road. Close behind is the Rincon-Palms Hotel and Restaurant, slated for the corner of Storke and Hollister, with 112 rooms. And finally, just beginning conceptual revue, is a 99-room hotel on Storke Road, next to the Camino Real Marketplace and Girsh Park. This is a total of 449 additional hotel rooms in Goleta, not counting the proposed 62 hotel condos and time-shares at the beach at the Bacara.
The rapid addition of these hotels raises some important questions. Who is going to be staying in all these rooms? And how are they going to affect existing hotels? Gary Lytle, manager of Pacifica Suites on Hollister located just a few blocks away from the new Hampton Inn, told me they had a significant drop in bookings last year. He attributes this in part to the opening of the new hotel, though he also recognizes that the state of the economy and gas prices have cut down on travel and hotel stays.
While Goleta gets some tourists, all these new hotels have plans for conference rooms and are designed to attract business visitors. A big player, of course, is UCSB-during graduation week, for instance, rooms are booked a year in advance! In addition, there are many other UCSB events and visitors throughout the year. The front desk manager at the Hampton Inn said that summer is busy with corporate guests during the week and UCSB camps and tournaments on the weekends. So perhaps there will be enough business for everyone.
Perhaps more important is what impact these new hotels will have on Goleta. On the plus side, they will provide additional revenue, even if there is no overall increase in the number of hotel stays. For the next three years, the County of Santa Barbara keeps 40 percent of the transient occupancy tax (a.k.a., the “bed tax”) generated by hotels in existence at the time of incorporation in 2001. But the City of Goleta retains all of this tax for any new hotels built since 2001.
On the down side, all new development affects mountain views, adds to traffic, and impacts the environment. The Hampton Inn was squeezed into its site in front of 37 new condos and, as mitigation, restored native vegetation along Old San Jose Creek. The Marriott hotel was planned to sit on a significant Chumash village site, which included burial areas. The original plan was to sink pilings that would destroy about 40 percent of the archeological deposits. Fortunately, the developer met with tribal representatives and redesigned the project to move the building back from the sensitive areas. The Rincon-Palms is adjacent to a very busy intersection at Storke and Hollister and will have major traffic impacts.
All these new hotels are close to bus transit, but most likely guests will arrive by car. And apart from a few new management positions, most of the jobs created by the hotels will be low-income. So the large number of maids, gardeners, and others needed to support these new hotels will either add to our commuter traffic or add to the already high demand for affordable housing. The result will either be increased traffic or increased overcrowding of already scarce workforce housing. Perhaps the hotels should follow the example of some South Coast ranchers and provide housing for their employees.
The City of Goleta has encouraged development of hotels, and did so in the original General Plan by creating hotel overlay zones. The city can certainly use the revenue, particularly over the next two to three years when it will lose an enhanced state vehicle license tax that newly incorporated cities receive for their first seven years. But we mustn’t lose sight that with any new revenue generator, whether a hotel or shopping center, there’s always the negative side of the coin.
A slew of revenue generating projects will soon be coming before the Goleta City Council, and on July 15, it will face one of the biggest: the Bishop Ranch developer’s request for a zoning change from agriculture to “mixed-use-Bishop Ranch,” which would allow the plan for 1,200 residences and seven acres of commercial development to move forward. By and large, Goletans value the openness and expansive views in our city. Perhaps it is time to slow down and take a careful look at the cumulative impact of any new development.