Bishop Ranch is again on the table for the Goleta City Council and consultants Thursday evening presented some of the results of a recent study of the property. Council chambers filled with people interested to learn what might become of the 240-acre site in western Goleta.
“We’re trying to provide an intelligent conversation,” city planning and environmental services director Steve Chase told Noozhawk.
Located off Glen Annie Road between Highway 101 and Cathedral Oaks Road, Bishop Ranch is an emotional topic for many Goletans. Some in the community want to see the fallow land put to use as a residential project while others want to keep it open with renewed agricultural activity. Previous discussions on Bishop Ranch’s potential development have consistently drawn crowds.
As it is now, the ranch sits unused and closed to the public. In the center stands a white ranch house, the remnants of a homestead that once spanned Goleta from the foothills to the ocean. The property is currently owned by University Exchange Corp.
Thursday’s presentation, led by representatives of the consulting firm ICF International, provided the audience with an overview of the firm’s report, which dealt with touchy topics such as water rights, agricultural viability and environmental impacts. Because of the size of the land and its visibility, development of any sort on the ranch, whether agricultural or residential, is bound to have significant impacts on the surrounding neighborhoods, the report concluded. (Noozhawk’s note: Scroll down for the full report.)
What these impacts may be and whether they are worth having are questions the community must assess, the consultants said as interested audience members read the report. Thursday’s meeting was for informational purposes only, and while public comment was allowed, the council requested that members of the public make their comment after people have had some time to digest the information.
Some conclusions that could be drawn at this early stage might be that agricultural operations would be difficult and pricey at best, and perhaps just economically infeasible given soil quality and water rights, which only provide enough to irrigate a fraction of the land.
“If agriculture is not economically viable, then we should be discussing what is economically viable,” said Urban McClellan, a representative for Bishop Ranch LLC. Several years ago the company floated a plan for about 1,000 residential units and amenities for the ranch, but later withdrew the proposal, citing some foot-dragging by the city.
For its part, Goleta cites the fact that at the time it was in the middle of work on the housing element of its General Plan, and that the Goleta Water District was also assessing its water supplies and plans for the General Plan.
Bishop Ranch is such a touchy topic, with many factors, that the city wanted a third-party consultant to address the issue, according to Chase.
If this Bishop Ranch conversation moves far enough ahead, however, the development plan may resurface.
“I’d like to see some active ag on there,” said former Goleta Mayor Cynthia Brock, one of the city’s founders and a member of its first city council. Despite the water and soils argument, people could farm on that land “if they got creative,” she said.
On the other hand, development may be more economically viable, and profitable in terms of jobs and taxes, but some fear the impacts of something that large on existing roads, the environment and municipal services.
Thursday’s meeting is one of three scheduled on the topic of Bishop Ranch. An Aug. 18 meeting will be the place for public comment and, in September, the city will decide on whether to proceed with an initiation of a General Plan amendment that could allow for a conversion of land use of Bishop Ranch to a residential designation from its current agricultural one.
“I want (the public) to read the report, look at it, and think about it,” said Mayor Pro Tem Ed Easton.