Neighborly relations between the cities of Santa Barbara and Goleta are threatening to strain beyond the breaking point in a dispute over the development of 5.3 acres of airport land. Santa Barbara wants to build nine light industrial and commercial buildings at 6100 Hollister Avenue, the site of three proposed but never-realized business parks over the last two decades. For Santa Barbara, the 47,000 square feet of industrial-commercial space is an exciting money-making prospect for the airport, a self-sustaining entity struggling to stay in the black.
Throughout the approval process, Goleta had repeatedly asked for a formal agreement with Santa Barbara over a fair-share contribution of funds toward mitigating the traffic impacts the project would create (e.g., building roundabouts, reworking highway on- and off-ramps, and installing traffic lights). Santa Barbara repeatedly rebuffed those requests, including with the Planning Commission’s final approval of the project in October, so Goleta took the unusual and somewhat dramatic step of appealing that decision in front of the City Council this Tuesday.
Goleta Deputy City Attorney Winnie Cai argued the project site needed a complete update to its original environmental analysis conducted in 1997. Since that time, she said, Goleta incorporated as a city, UCSB grew significantly, and the airport installed a massive new terminal. The baseline for the analysis is completely different today than it was 20 years ago, as are road and traffic realities, she said. And the addendum that Santa Barbara staff have since attached to the original environmental impact report (EIR) — which includes a fair-share formula to determine the city’s share of the cost — doesn’t cut it. “The addendum can’t be used to save this 20-year-old EIR from obsolescence,” she said. Cai said that while Goleta agrees with the formula itself, disputes exist over the number of intersections each city feels will be impacted by the project; Santa Barbara says four, while Goleta says nine. Goleta is asking for $2.6 million; Santa Barbara is willing to give $600,000.
Back before Goleta was a city, and the City of Santa Barbara approved the 180,000-square-foot Gateway Center at 6100 Hollister Avenue abutted by what was then county land, the county appealed the project. The city eventually agreed to pay $1.3 million in traffic-mitigation fees.
In its essence, Cai concluded, today’s issue “violates the spirit of cooperation that we, as public entity neighbors, have.” Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte emphasized to the council that her city did not wish to stop the project altogether, but it wants to ensure that the impacts on Goleta are adequately addressed. “On behalf of our residents, we want to make sure they won’t be stuck with the costs of road and safety improvements.” Perotte ended her comments by stating residents of both cities wouldn’t want their city halls spending tax dollars on litigation.
With little discussion, the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously to deny Goleta’s appeal and continue with the project. The councilmembers did, however, direct their staff to continue negotiating with Goleta’s on final fair-share figures. “I have full faith our staffs will figure out what number will work,” said Mayor Helene Schneider, admitting, “We seem pretty far apart today.” Santa Barbara City Attorney Ariel Calonne said while he hopes to avoid a lawsuit, the issue centers on money, not irreparable harm, so Goleta has a “very low likelihood” of succeeding in court.