The tension between slow growth and pro-development contingents – a defining feature of Goleta politics – reared its head once again on Tuesday at the first Goleta City Council meeting of the year.
For the past two years, talk of possible amendments to Goleta’s General Plan created controversy between the two groups, resulting in the creation of a six-track work plan in July 2007, to examine the proposed changes. (Track 1 is dedicated to housing, Track 2 to minor policy revisions, Track 2.5 to building-intensity standards, Track 3 to major policy revisions and conservation issues, Track 4 to specific projects, and Track 5 to delving into the city’s sphere of influence.) The plan – which addresses crucial elements of the City of Goleta’s design, including housing, policy revisions, the city’s sphere of influence, and the requirements for several specific projects – has been managed by the city’s planning staff and has sometimes come under fire for what critics perceive as its failings. The ultimate goal is to correct perceived problems in the current General Plan and come up with a more fine-tuned version.
However, citing the need to move forward with the initiation process in order to collect more information, the council voted 4-1 on Tuesday night – with Councilmember Margaret Connell as the sole opposition – to proceed with the work plan.
“This is the kind of process that has been conducted in the light of day,” said Steve Chase, planning and environmental services director, alluding to the transparency of the work his staff has done to work through the amendment process. He said that the original General Plan had a few critical flaws – in particular certain prohibitions related to development permits that many builders have said make it difficult for them to conduct business.
While many have objected to amendments proposed by entities such as Haskell’s Landing and Bacara Resort and Spa, which have project applications in various stages of the approval process, the element of the work plan that raised the most ire among members of the public at Tuesday’s hearing was sphere of influence. Specifically, residents of the rural North Fairview neighborhood who had filed a petition stating their desire not to be included in Goleta’s sphere were incensed that Goleta was submitting an application to the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) anyway. “Speaking to you seems to be like closing the barn door after the horse has gone,” said longtime resident Randy Fischer.
Former city councilmember Cynthia Brock echoed Fischer’s concerns, adding that sphere of influence amendments – which pertain to North Fairview, the South Patterson agricultural block, and Glen Annie Golf Course – may target agricultural lands for urban development. Unlike the other two parcels, the owners of Glen Annie Golf Course are in favor of annexation of their property – a condition necessary to enable their proposal to convert much of the parcel to homes. Brock suggested that the shape of the amendment process – begun under the former council – was influenced by a desire to settle lawsuits and satisfy the demands of developers.
Connell’s objection to the continuation of the General Plan amendment work plan resulted from her fear of making too many changes too quickly. “An enormous number of General Plan Amendments were initiated in the last two years, many of which didn’t need to be initiated in order to achieve a General Plan that was acceptable to this community,” she said during an impassioned speech.
Councilmember Michael Bennett countered that a lot of time and money had been spent on the initiation process, and that continuing with the work plan would give the council and planning staff more information about the proposed changes. Mayor Roger Aceves said that he shared many of Connell’s concerns, but said that after the study of the amendments is done, the council can voice concerns about the changes and decide whether to vote for them individually. “As a planner, I understand the value of the process, and at this point, the value in completing the process,” said Councilmember Ed Easton.