Recent construction of new developments in Goleta has drawn criticism primarily for increasing traffic and raising demands for water. More and more I’m also hearing complaints about the effects of this construction on our eyes. Views of Goleta’s surrounding foothills, mountains, ocean, and skies are being replaced by views of bricks and mortar and parking lots.
Approvals of Goleta development and redevelopment are not over. There may still be time to save the visual quality of our community. To that end I want to offer some ideas and language “borrowed” from one California city, even if some of these ideas seem somewhat extreme or radical. However, these ideas may find support among Goletans who think our community views add to our enjoyment, quality of life and property values.
Goleta needs to make clear the importance of our views with General Plan statements like this: “The Goleta Valley is well known for the scenic beauty of its open spaces, foothills, and ocean and mountain views.” And, “Aesthetic values are important aspects of a community in establishing its identity, sense of place, and quality of life.” Let’s make a bold statement committing us to “Preserve and protect Goleta’s scenic and historic resources to the maximum extent possible.”
To provide good guidance for planners and architects, we could provide more specifics such as the following:
• “Limitations on the height and size of structures.
• “Limitations on the height of exterior walls (including retaining walls) and fences.
• “Use of landscaping for screening purposes and/or minimizing view blockage as applicable.”
It would probably help to specify which Goleta-area views we want to pay special attention to. I suggest creating something like a “Scenic Resources Map that identifies corridors that pass through, or provide visual access to, areas of high scenic value.” For starters we could include the following: “US-101, Cathedral Oaks Road, Hollister Avenue, Los Carneros Road etc.”
To show our determination to preserve these scenic corridors, let’s make another bold statement: “The aesthetic qualities of scenic corridors shall be preserved through retention of the general character of significant natural features; views of the ocean, foothills, and mountainous areas; and open space associated with recreational and agricultural areas including orchards, prominent vegetation, and historic structures.”
All this is well and good, but we also need to make sure that commercial construction protects views. There is a tendency to construct buildings so close to sidewalks that they block out not only mountain views but also the sky. To address this concern, let’s create a firm guideline such as this: “Stepping of buildings so that the heights of building elements are lower near the street and increase with distance from the public viewing area. Increased setbacks along major roadways to preserve views and create an attractive visual corridor.”
Another concern is that too often views are marred by big, unscreened parking lots full of cars and trucks. Wouldn’t we all benefit with a guideline such as the following? “Where appropriate, parking lots should be located behind, beside, or beneath buildings to minimize visibility. Where buildings do not screen parking, landscaping, berms, or low walls shall be used to screen cars from adjacent roadways and other developments.”
Too often views are spoiled by large, unattractive signs. How about the following guideline? “The city’s visual character shall be enhanced through the use of restrained and tasteful signage that conveys an orderly and attractive appearance, complements project design, and enhances the city’s image. Excessive signage should be minimized.”
While many will acknowledge that views are important, some will complain that we don’t need more rules, laws and guidelines. We already have a lot of rules on the books and we just need to enforce them. Guess what? I agree. It turns out that all the above statements in quotation marks are not my ideas, nor ideas from other jurisdictions.
Each and every statement I proposed above is a quote from Goleta’s existing General Plan!
But as the photographs accompanying this column show, we are not holding to our principles of protecting our precious views. The photos of the Westar (aka Hollister Village) development and the new Hilton Garden Inn show that these developments significantly reduced views of the mountains and completely obliterated views of foothills surrounding Goleta. The picture of Westar’s parking lot fronting Hollister is directly contrary to our guidelines of minimizing parking lot visibility.
The pictures of the new Hilton Hotel abutting Storke just north of Hollister and the Goleta Valley Medical building on Hollister at Patterson are just some examples of how the most minimal of setbacks have been permitted, radically reducing views for people walking by and cars driving past. If allowed to continue, we risk what’s known as view-destroying “canyonization” of our city.
There is currently a proposal to rezone the Shelby agricultural property for residential development on Cathedral Oaks in the city of Goleta’s foothills. This would replace views of the lush, green foothills seen here, with views of 60 houses. Except for the Shelby property, most of the foothills bordering Goleta are in S.B. County’s jurisdiction. If Goleta doesn’t protect the views of its own foothills, how can we expect the county to protect the rest of them?
The sign ordinance currently being proposed under the zoning ordinance revision would allow moveable electronic signs for quasi-commercial enterprises in residential neighborhoods. This means that day-care centers could put up lighted, moving signs — such as the one pictured — right next to single family homes. And this is just one of the many proposed revisions to the zoning ordinance and an example of why we have to pay attention to these changes now.
The logical next question is why have major Goleta developments failed to live up to Goleta’s General Plan guidelines to preserve Goleta’s aesthetic qualities? The answer is complicated, requiring a much longer explanation. In short, too often our processes and leaders have sacrificed the quality of Goleta’s views to developers’ advantage for the most part. And too few of us have stepped up to hold developments to Goleta’s General Plan guidelines specifically aimed to protect our city’s visual qualities.
People who think that Goleta views and aesthetics do matter can still make a difference. As Goleta is revising its zoning code, the public has an opportunity to insist that strong zoning measures are put in place to strengthen and re-enforce protections for the aesthetic quality of Goleta. As the Shelby project comes forward with its final EIR and goes to Goleta’s Planning Commission, residents need to step up and testify that they want views of foothills protected.
It’s not too late to protect and preserve Goleta’s remaining views. But looking at the pictures of how recent developments are failing to live up to our General Plan view-preserving guidelines, it’s absolutely, most definitely not too early.