Bishop Ranch
Paul Wellman

Goleta residents got one step closer on Tuesday to getting the final say as to the whether the city’s remaining agriculturally zoned areas will ever be commercially developed.

The Goodland Coalition, headed by Robert Wignot (who also sits on the city’s Design Review Board) and powered by a team of nearly 50 volunteers, collected roughly 2,100 signatures in a six-week period in support of the Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative. The measure, if it passes the next steps in the journey to landing on the November ballot, would allow Goleta residents to vote on whether or not agricultural lands over 10 acres can be rezoned. And on Tuesday, the coalition submitted its signed petition to the city clerk, who will now verify if all of the 2,100 people are Goleta-registered voters.

Those 2,100 people, said Wignot, are not even as many people who actually signed the petition. During their “grassroots effort” — which involved standing outside shopping centers and going door-to-door — Wignot said the volunteers gathered 2,400 signatures. In their own cross-referencing of the names versus the registered voters of Goleta, though, the Coalition found about 300 of the people weren’t eligible to vote in the Goodland. They crossed those 300 people off of the petition, but their support — even as non-Goleta residents — Wignot said, sends a strong message.

“We’re very encouraged by the responsiveness of the city,” he said. “This community supports local agriculture. We don’t have a lot of [agricultural] acreage left in the city of Goleta, and I think the citizens want to see it preserved.”

The next step, should the city clerk find no problems with the 2,100 signatures (500 more than the 1,600 required), is for the Goodland Coalition to present the initiative to the City Council, which will likely happen in June.

“We have a good opportunity with this present council,” Wignot said, referring to the council’s unanimous rejection last September of a pitch to develop Bishop Ranch. “We feel that a measure like ours is necessary.”

Opponents of the measure, Wignot said, misconstrue its intentions. “It’s not taking away a person’s property rights,” he said. “These parcels are zoned for agriculture. We’re adding a step at the end of the process with our measure.”

As things are now, the City Council has to give its approval for agricultural land to be rezoned for nonagricultural purposes. With the Goleta Heritage Farmlands Initiative, the city’s residents would get the final say. “If the community didn’t have the same vision as the developer,” Wignot said, “they would have the opportunity to express that through their vote.”

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