For the first time in six years, we have a contested election for Goleta City Council. Five candidates are running for two seats. So much is at stake in this election. It is a virtual referendum on whether voters approve of the recent amount and pace of development or whether we want a change of direction. And voters want to know which candidates will best represent their point of view.
Contrary to what some have said, Goleta still has a great deal of proposed development waiting in the wings. Just click here to see Goleta’s Cumulative Project List. Page 3 contains eight projects that are “pending” approval. And as in other cities, developers always have their eyes on opportunities for redevelopment anywhere existing structures can be rebuilt bigger and higher.
Goleta’s next City Council will also have to make other very important decisions. High on the list is invoking Goleta’s authority to close Venoco’s Ellwood Onshore oil processing facility (EOF). As I've advocated in a previous Grapevine column, it’s time to return this area to the recreational uses for which it is zoned.
There are three reliable predictors of candidates’ positions and intentions: First, their votes or public positions on specific projects and initiatives; second, the contributions received from the people and organizations funding their campaigns; third, their endorsers. As Mom used to say, “We are known by the company we keep.”
Votes and Positions
As a city councilmember, Tony Vallejo voted to amend Goleta’s General Plan so he could approve the 175-unit Old Town Village. Challengers Stuart Kasdin and Kyle Richards opposed the amendment and development.
Vallejo voted to place Measure C2016 on this fall’s ballot to change the way Goleta’s mayor is selected in 2018. If passed, this change would give the mayor significantly more power by requiring the mayor to decide all appointments to Goleta’s Boards and Commissions, including the Planning Commission. It will also raise the cost of selecting the mayor. And it will allow a council majority to raise the mayor's salary by any amount it chooses. Vallejo supported this change. Kasdin and Richards oppose it.
In 2014 Vallejo voted against holding a public hearing to consider shutting down the EOF. Kasdin and Richards have consistently testified that Goleta should exercise its authority to shut down this dangerous facility as soon as possible.
Earlier this year the council debated sending a letter to the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission opposing a rail spur that would enable oil companies to run oil-filled rail cars though Goleta and other communities. Vallejo voted against sending this letter. Kasdin and Richards supported sending it.
When Vallejo was president of Goleta’s Chamber of Commerce, the Chamber opposed the Goleta Farmland Protection Initiative that gives voters the final say on rezoning Bishop Ranch and other agricultural parcels of 10 acres or more. Kasdin and Richards supported the initiative, as did 71 percent of Goleta voters.
Among the over $35,000 in contributions Vallejo reported as of October 7, 2016, are $15,000 from the Goleta Chamber of Commerce PAC, $1,600 from developer Michael Towbes, and $1,500 from California Association of Realtors. Kasdin and Richards have accepted no funds from the chamber or developers. This official link lists campaign contribution filings from all the candidates.
Vallejo’s endorsers include the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce and Santa Barbara Association of Realtors. Perhaps more significant are his endorsements by councilmembers Bennett and Aceves, who voted to appoint Vallejo to fill the vacancy left by councilmember Ed Easton’s departure. With Vallejo, this majority’s three votes can amend Goleta’s General Plan any Tuesday to approve more developments.
Bennett and Aceves have served on Goleta’s City Council since 2006. Shortly after taking office, they voted to amend Goleta’s original General Plan, in the name of “flexibility.” Their amendments changed many development approval conditions from “shall” to “should,” giving themselves more power and leeway to approve projects.
In 2009, they also voted to eliminate the Goleta Growth Management Ordinance (GGMO), giving themselves the power to approve commercial and residential development no longer limited by the GGMO’s growth caps. Later they voted to give themselves more power to reduce the setback requirements that developments had to maintain from sensitive areas.
Bennett and Aceves have voted for virtually every single development approved since they entered office in 2006, before, during, and after the 2008 recession. As I wrote in a previous column, it is disingenuous to claim that all of Goleta’s rapid development is just the result of the council following our General Plan. The council majority has amended the plan when approving development, as in The Hideaway and Old Town Village. The City Council majority is directly or indirectly responsible for all of this development.
The General Plan contains no requirement that a particular development must happen, no timetable, no blueprints, no design details. Goleta’s department heads are responsible for making all the recommendations for the design, size, bulk, and scale of these projects. They are responsible for projecting the impacts of these developments on views, traffic, water, recreation, etc. and needed mitigations. These people were hired, appointed by, or authorized by the members of the City Council, including Vallejo and his endorsers Bennett and Aceves.
Kasdin’s endorsers and Richards’s endorsers include many organizations and local leaders such as Margaret Connell, Goleta’s first mayor and a member of city founders Goleta Now! They are also endorsed by Councilmember Paula Perotte, who voted against the Hollister Village (Westar) and Old Town Village. Kasdin and Richards are the only council candidates endorsed by the the Sierra Club's local chapter, and by the Goodland Coalition, the proponents of the Goleta Farmland Protection Initiative.
The best hope to change Goleta’s direction is to unite around the two most qualified and viable candidates, who in my opinion are Stuart Kasdin and Kyle Richards. Two additional candidates favor slower development — real estate agent and broker David Haws and businessman Aaron Swaney. However, if people seeking slower development split their votes for the two open seats among Kasdin, Richards, Haws, and Swaney, only one of them will be elected. Tony Vallejo will win all the votes from people who want to continue the current majority’s pro-development direction.
This election contains clear choices. Those who like Goleta’s current development course steered by today’s Bennett, Aceves, Vallejo majority and the Goleta Chamber of Commerce should vote for Tony Vallejo. If elected, as current Mayor Pro Tem, Vallejo would immediately become the first Goleta mayor who previously was the Goleta Chamber of Commerce President.
If you believe as I do that the current council majority has approved too much development too fast and we need to slow down until we can manage our traffic and water supply, and support a full time library; if you believe we need to first be able to provide more recreation, more Old Town parking, more safety crossings to the Calle Real Shopping Center; if you believe we need to shut down Venoco’s dangerous oil processing facility on Haskell’s Beach and reclaim that area for its zoned recreational uses — then your votes should go to Stuart Kasdin and Kyle Richards. They will form a new City Council majority to help us take back the city we voted for 15 years ago.