Tuesday evening, August 10, the Goleta City Council will be allowing the owners of Bishop Ranch to pay for an $85,000 study that will assess the impacts of amending the city’s General Plan to change the 240-acre property’s zoning from agriculture to a blend of residential, commercial, parkland, and open space. That sort of assessment is the right of any property owner in the city and — though the regular watchdogs are expected to speak out against any attempt to build upon the largest remaining swath of undeveloped Goleta land — the move itself should be devoid of much controversy.
However, in the hours before that decision, the councilmembers will receive a briefing from staff in closed session over a long-lingering lawsuit that the owners of Bishop Ranch filed against the city in 2006 when the General Plan was adopted. The lawsuit is one of a handful filed against the city due to the General Plan, which lays out long-term planning guidelines and zoning policies, and Bishop Ranch is fighting its agricultural zoning and other policies as well as challenging the Environmental Impact Report.
Other litigants include the Bacara Resort, which objects to some of its land being designated as environmentally sensitive habitat and is challenging building height restrictions, among other complaints; Glynne Couvillion, who would like to build homes at the 14-acre Shelby Property on Cathedral Oaks next to the Glen Annie Golf Course that’s currently zoned ag; and Citizens for a Better Goleta, a group with ties to the Chamber of Commerce. The lawsuits have been extended in six-month increments for nearly four years now, but the stagnation seems to be on the way out.
“Just recently, the courts finally said that it’s time to fish or cut bait, which is not a surprise,” said city manager Dan Singer last week. He explained that the citizens group and Couvillion appear prepared to drop their suits — with Couvillion expected to bring forth a development proposal this September — but that Bishop Ranch and the Bacara remain entrenched because both have applications for development moving through the city’s hoops. As such, the lawsuits can’t help but deliver a little extra leverage when it comes to decision making.
“There is that veil of the lawsuit that plays into the decision-making, but it’s not an aggressive threat of some type,” said Singer, who explained that Bishop Ranch had discussed dropping the suit if their application is allowed to move forward, which is what the city councilmembers will be briefed on Tuesday in closed session. “Because of Bishop’s indication and willingness to consider dropping the suit,” said Singer, “we’ve put it on the agenda so the council has an opportunity to know that before making a decision in the evening.”
Whether the economic costs of fighting such a lawsuit will outweigh the political costs of allowing or denying some form of development to go forward on Bishop Ranch will remain a lingering question for many months to come.