Fighting Development at the Ballot Box

Goodland Coalition Launches Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative

Bishop Ranch
Paul Wellman

As it stands today, it’s not particularly easy to build new housing in Goleta, which incorporated as a city 10 years ago in order to better throttle the region’s growth. But if a group of slow-growth activists get their way, that process is certain to become even more daunting, at least for those who’d want to turn large agricultural properties into suburbia.

That’s the thrust of the Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative, which was officially unveiled at Tuesday night’s city council meeting by Robert Wignot from the preservation-minded Goodland Coalition. The group, which formed to fight against the proposed development of Bishop Ranch last year, is now collecting the 1,600 valid signatures needed to put the initiative on the November 2012 ballot. If it passes, the city’s voters, via a simple majority of 50 percent plus one, would have the final say for developing any Goleta properties that are more than 10 acres and currently zoned for farming — and that citywide vote would come only after such proposals have successfully wound their way through the entire planning process, including an approval by the city council.

In an interview with The Santa Barbara Independent before Tuesday’s hearing, Wignot explained that his group was “heartened” by the council’s unanimous vote against developing Bishop Ranch last September, but that the nature of politics could make future decisions fall any which way. “Down the road, we may get a council that’s more amenable to rezoning some or all of these lands to another use,” said Wignot, who sits on the city’s Design Review Board. “That’s fine, as long as the community is in accord, but we think the voters should have the final say….Right now, with a simple majority, three votes on any given Tuesday can amend the General Plan.”

Hoping to preserve Goleta’s legacy as a land of orchards and rural open space, the initiative — which was developed with the legal help of the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara and is following the template of a similar initiative that passed a couple years ago in Buellton— targets just six parcels: the 240-acre Bishop Ranch; two parcels on each side of Bishop Ranch; Fairview Gardens; a 23-acre chunk in Ellwood Canyon; and the Shelby property, which is located next to Glen Annie Golf Club. The latter property, however, is already moving through the planning process, said Wignot, and may be approved for development before this initiative is activated. Additionally, the initiative would also include any unincorporated lands that are annexed into the city down the road, and any changes to them would have to refer to today’s zoning.

Of course, as evidenced by the latest Bishop Ranch saga, it’s already a risky and expensive proposition to convert Goleta ag land to subdivisions and successfully sail it through the process. So what developer would then endure that knowing that the project would then be subject to an election campaign and the will of the people? “A developer would really have to sell his idea to the community,” answered Wignot. “It would really have to be the community’s idea for that change to happen. I feel that, at this point, that’s the way it should be.”

Whether his neighbors agree will be a question for this coming November, so long as they can get the 1,600 required signatures to get it on the ballot. In the meantime, expect public forums to be announced so that citizens can learn more about the Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative.

“If you look at what Goleta was like in the ’40s and ’50s, it was all agricultural and now there are these remnants that still have significance,” said Wignot, who also noted that these parcels both provide locally grown food and a buffer to wildfires. “Should we say, ‘Let’s it all go and be built on,’ or should we same some of it for future generations to decide what’s the best use? We’re more of the mind of the latter.”


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