“I cannot express to you how pissed off I am right now.” Mark Linehan, the developer of Camino Real Marketplace, let it all hang out in an email, seriously displeased that his gas station project had been summarily rejected by Goleta’s City Council on July 18. After all, he’d donated the 1.3 acres under Ice in Paradise, an ice-skating rink that sits alongside the project parcel at Storke and Santa Felicia Drive. He’d put up the sheriff’s substation at the Marketplace rent-free since 2007; he’d given $125,000 for a public-safety fund every year. But the parcel at issue was not zoned for a gas station, and three of the five councilmembers said no, they weren’t going to even think about amending the General Plan to allow it.
The council meeting was a confused and confusing affair that went late into the night. At one point, Interim City Attorney Michael Jenkins agreed with Mayor Pro Tem Stuart Kasdin that what they were doing made little sense. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right,” Jenkins said, they were starting a General Plan amendment for a project that wasn’t yet on paper. But that’s the way Goleta did it, said Jenkins. The staff report was thus vague on the project — called out as a gas station but actually including a car wash and minimart — and offering only the applicant’s new land-use and zoning designation, one that changed the lot’s use to light industry, among others. Kasdin and Councilmember Kyle Richards protested that the category allowed uses like wrecking yards and auto painting. They and Mayor Paula Perotte voted it down.
Linehan reportedly vented his frustration to city staffers and out in the parking lot before he typed his email. Outside, he encountered Barbara Massey, who has spoken for the Goodland Coalition before the council for about a decade, including at this hearing. “He said, ‘You’re stupid,'” she recalled. “‘You don’t know anything about planning.'” And she recalled his threat. “‘You’re never going to get any commercial recreation there.’ He said that about five times,” said Massey. She’d argued that forestalling a General Plan amendment was a good thing; it would cost the Goodland Coalition time “to be fighting it through the whole process.” In return, Linehan threatened to put a hotel at the site, she said.
By “commercial recreation,” Linehan referred to the parcel’s current General Plan land-use designation. The councilmembers had stated that recreation like Ice in Paradise seemed more appropriate to the area than a gas station. One public speaker, Kathy Goeden, had pointed out that four gas stations were already nearby. Mayor Perotte added that the intersection was nearing capacity.
Linehan went on in his email to terminate his $125,000 contribution to the Public Safety Donation Fund — which contractually was due June 30 and has not been paid, said attorney Jenkins — and also the farmers’ markets and art walks at the Marketplace. “All these occur due to my goodwill,” he wrote, “and I get zero in return, and if you are going to treat me this way, why should I give my goodwill back to the City?”
These were Linehan’s thoughts after he’d “cooled down,” he wrote, adding he would return to council for “another bite at this apple” out of his belief that confusion over the General Plan amendment process was the problem. Linehan talked about his frustration in a phone conversation this week, stating the hearing was not about the project. It was “a bit of a catch-22,” as he put it. “I wasn’t asking for a junkyard or a change to the General Plan,” he said. “I was just asking to submit an application. … The use of the property would be brought up in a future hearing,” he explained, “and the council would say what would go on that property at the moment they approved the future General Plan amendment.” And if the community then said it didn’t want a gas station/car wash, “I’m 100 percent okay with that.”
Asked about retracting his funding, he explained his feelings: “If you’ve been mistreated, if you’ve been wronged; I do all these things at a cost to me. … Should you continue to be a nice guy?” And the traffic? “I think it is an issue. You’re not going to like this, but the type of building project that has zero traffic impact is mini-storage. I know it doesn’t look great, but it helps students.” Linehan went on to say that his developments have all been things the community was looking for: the Goleta Courtyard by Marriott, Maravilla senior living, a shopping center, the ice rink. And he’d owned the Santa Felicia property for going on 20 years and was in no hurry to do something. “The land is five acres. Our intent is to use an acre and a half. We were thinking of selling the other 3.5 acres to the City of Goleta, at half of whatever it’s appraised at. The city could use it for a skateboard park,” he suggested, adding that he’d floated the idea about a year ago to several councilmembers.
Councilmember Kasdin said after the meeting that Linehan had failed to state any community benefit for the project, one of the requirements for initiating a General Plan amendment. Such a change has a higher threshold, he said, since the document gives a strategic overview of how the city looks. “You don’t want piecemeal re-visioning,” he said, of a plan that formed during a long public process.
Councilmember Richards contrasted the situation to Fire Station 10, which received its General Plan amendment initiation in May as it benefited public safety, and Bishop Ranch in 2011, which did not, chiefly due to a huge public outcry to preserve it. He pointed to the impact that “out-of-control growth and unchecked development” had had on the nearby intersection of Storke and Hollister: “I refuse to allow any further erosion of our city’s vision.” Richards expressed gratitude for Linehan’s donations, but “Mr. Linehan’s generosity ought not be used as leverage to get his way on a project that is not in the best interest of the City.”