My fellow columnist Vic Cox previously wrote about the community resistance to the new California Highway Patrol location, and the following is an interview with Robert Miller, who has been instrumental in organizing the Westside Goleta Coalition, Goleta’s newest neighborhood association. A trial lawyer affiliated with a national law firm, Robert Miller moved to Goleta about 16 months ago.
Tell us about the Westside Goleta Coalition and how it got started.
A month or two ago I heard from our neighbors that a CHP facility was proposed to be built across the street from our residence at The Hideaway [across Hollister from Sandpiper Golf Club.] They heard that the state had held a meeting at the Ellwood Elementary School a few days earlier to discuss the proposed development. We were alarmed that no one in our neighborhood had been notified about the meeting and even more concerned about what we later learned about the project.
I reviewed a copy of a Power Point presentation from the school meeting. It provided little significant information, other than that the state had selected the site and that an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) was expected to be issued this fall. The deadline for submission of comments on the project was May 8, about a week after we first heard about it. That deadline really got us going, so several of us decided we needed to organize and oppose the project.
We started knocking on doors. A few days later I attended a meeting called by concerned residents of The Bluffs [a community to the east of Sandpiper]. Within a couple of weeks we had joined with residents from The Hideaway, The Bluffs, Winchester Canyon, the Embarcadero neighborhood, the Ellwood neighborhood, and El Encanto Heights.
Soon we realized that we needed to get better organized and raise money. So we decided to name ourselves the Westside Goleta Coalition. A talented neighbor developed a website where people could sign up. We also formed a steering committee to share the work and represent our broad group of supporters.
We now have about 90 email addresses, accounting for as many as 150 concerned residents, and we expect that many more will soon join us. We prepared a flyer, and we are now going to go door-to-door to spread the word and sign up more supporters.
What are your concerns about the project?
First and foremost, it is the wrong location for a CHP facility. It is sited right next to an elementary school, multiple residential neighborhoods, a nature preserve, and a soon-to-be-built assisted living facility. It would dramatically degrade the peaceful, residential atmosphere of the west side of Goleta.
We also have concerns about noise, health, and environmental impacts. A major portion of the station will be devoted to vehicle maintenance, with multiple vehicles work bays, and above-ground gas tanks to fuel their vehicles. So the potential fumes and runoff so close to an elementary school, a planned assisted living facility, and a delicate butterfly preserve could pose a real hazard to vulnerable humans and species. Moreover, we are concerned about the amount of increased traffic and the potential hazards of CHP vehicles required to speed to and from emergencies through a school zone and residential neighborhood.
Are there any other concerns?
Yes. The proposal includes a 148-foot-tall microwave tower that is about three times the height of the tower at the existing Calle Real CHP facility. It would impose not only adverse visual impacts but also unknown health impacts from the microwaves themselves. Some studies have raised concerns about the long-term effects of microwaves on nearby wildlife and people, especially vulnerable children and seniors.
What is the current status of the proposed project?
The property does not have a water connection, and from all indications, the Goleta Water District will not provide water for the foreseeable future. Thus, the state may be spending all this money on a property they have not yet purchased and on which they may never be able to build for lack of water. If the state proceeds regardless of these hurdles and our unified community opposition, in the fall of 2015 the EIR will be issued, to which we’ll prepare a comprehensive response.
Also, as far as we know, the state has not yet acquired the property. We are hopeful a developer will step forward to purchase the current site for a more appropriate use. We have offered to work with the state to find a more appropriate site before they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an EIR for an ill-chosen site that they may not be able to acquire.
If this CHP project gets resolved, do you think there may be other issues in which your organization may become involved?
Yes, there are issues that may impact the west side of Goleta. People have signed up expressly to oppose the CHP facility so I want to be careful not to overstep what supporters want us to do. But I have taken the opportunity to alert them to other issues that exist in our part of town.
For example, Phillips 66 has proposed to ship oil tanker cars on the railroad tracks just a few hundred feet from our property. The proposal involves mile-long trains carrying millions of gallons of highly volatile petroleum products. I shared my thoughts on this with our members prior to a Goleta council meeting on the proposal. We were pleased the council ultimately voted to send a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Planning Commission opposing the project
Also, Southern California Edison operates a power generating plant just across the street. It is called a peaker plant because it provides electrical power to the Santa Barbara area at times of peak demand. The plant has been here for some time. When we moved in we were told that it would likely operate only about an hour a week, primarily during times of power outages or extraordinary demand. But there’s a plan before the Public Utilities Commission in Sacramento to refurbish the plant, and we are trying to understand how that might affect our community. Also, our members are interested in issues pertaining to the Venoco facilities located just down the street from us. While our group might decide to involve itself in such issues, at the moment we’re focused on the CHP project.
If people want to help, what should they do?
We need volunteers and financial contributions. So far we’ve funded our efforts with contributions from a few individuals. But if the state decides not to seek a different site, we will have to respond to the EIR issued this fall, requiring hiring persons with special expertise. Contributions can be made with most credit or debit cards on our website: 2closeforcomfort.com.
How can people get in touch with you?
People can sign also up at our website. Or they can email me at email@example.com.