The torrent of information that poured from Goleta’s Planning Director Peter Imhof on Monday just about matched the flood of projects that face his staff. Complaints from citizens (too much building) and developers (process too slow and repetitive) had led to a proposed reorganization of his department, informed by meetings during 2017 with planners, customers, and residents by management consultant Citygate Associates. The last word was to come from the City Council, but before the councilmembers spoke, Imhof wanted to make sure they understood each issue in detail.
The “dysfunction” described at the Planning and Environmental Review department by Citygate in its report was in part due to the adoption of county policies by the fledgling city and also the pro- and anti-development swings the City Council makeup has shown since then. The report identified the issues primarily as a need to connect the department’s mission with its objectives across all employees, a need for professional development, consistent customer service, and a less-hierarchical organizational structure. Planning personnel had changed — Imhof took the reins last August — and the type of development in the city was likely to: Goleta is moving toward infill projects as compared to the “greenfield” developments it’s faced since incorporating in 2001.
Goleta has more projects than its 15 regular staffers can handle. Taking up the slack are a handful of contract employees — including in Building and Safety — and over a dozen contractors. With an organized list of the projects the three divisions — Advance Planning, Current Planning, and Sustainability Programs — were tackling, as well as the staff time or contractor costs for each, Imhof asked the City Council to hold off revamping the department until key projects were done. “If we make changes now,” he said, “that would distract us from accomplishing the important work items we have on our plates.” Rather, he asked the council to indicate which of the ongoing efforts should have priority.
One key project is installing a Permit Tracking System. Currently, planners dig through carbon copies in boxes when looking for a permit application. But documents are being scanned in, and the tracking system should be in place by year’s end, Imhof said. The other important project is the New Zoning Ordinance, legal parameters that are more appropriate to the city’s size than the county rules it inherited. That project is key to next completing the Local Coastal Program.
Likewise, big ordinance projects like Accessory Dwelling Unit and Cannabis Use should be finished by summer, Imhof said, and the butterfly habitat plan by November. A revamp of the messy design review process should also be completed by November. As Michael Bennett, a councilmember since 2006, explained it, the Design Review Board pre-existed Goleta’s Planning Commission and once had many of the commission’s responsibilities. An attempt to strip the overlap had resulted in a sketchy design review process that satisfied no one.
These are only a handful of the current, special, upcoming, and potential projects explained to the City Council on Monday. After eliminating “Sphere of Influence Changes” from Advance Planning’s projects list, the council agreed to leave the planning department at peace to get on with its workload under Imhof’s leadership for a couple of years.