Goleta’s agricultural history was not lost on any of the city officials, who voted unanimously not to move forward on a public planning process.
More than 100 people packed into the council chambers to listen to public comment, and Mayor Margaret Connell began the meeting by saying the council had received at least 300 emails, letters and other comments on the issue, “and they’re still coming in.”
“This is an important project that people care a great deal about,” she said.
Bishop Ranch 2000 LLC, the development company behind the application, was seeking to put a mix of residential units, a community commercial center, community amenities and public works infrastructure on the property.
Because the land is zoned for agricultural use, Goleta’s General Plan would have needed to be amended to allow the project to proceed. Earlier this year, the company submitted an application to the city asking for those amendments and for a development agreement.
Planner Anne Wells reminded the City Council on Tuesday that 1,300 residential units are already in the pipeline.
“Most of our vacant land is under some form of review,” she said.
An agricultural study was conducted to evaluate the conditions on the property, which has been fallow for 15 years. It determined that 67 acres of the property have the potential to be classified as “prime” agricultural soil. However, the property has only enough water rights to support 25 acres of agriculture per year.
Bishop Ranch developer Michael Keston began his presentation Tuesday night by saying that no sustainable farming operations had taken place on the property in 40 to 50 years.
“Agriculture is not economically viable on the 240-acre Bishop Ranch property,” he said.
Cities are facing tough financial times, Keston added, and the project would bring in millions of dollars for city transportation, local schools and the Goleta Water District.
Keston presented several options, including a plan calling for 1,195 housing units. Workforce housing would be part of the plan, and Keston said sale prices would range from $320,000 to $900,000, and more than 50 percent would fall under the affordable housing category.
A second plan would reduce the number of units to 895 units and include 120 acres of open space. Hiking and walking trails also would be opened up to the public, he said.
But the lure of development dollars didn’t sit well with many at the meeting. Dozens of attendees wore green stickers emblazoned with “The Goodland Coalition,” a group that organized to oppose the development.
Speaker Charlene Luna encouraged the council to preserve the property as agriculture. Luna, a longtime resident, said that after driving back from seeing her mother “in that ghetto called Santa Barbara,” she’s always glad to be home.
“(Bishop Ranch) is the jewel of Goleta Valley,” she said. “We aren’t called the Good Land for nothing.”
Joe Armendariz spoke on behalf of the Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Association and urged the council to move forward.
“Initiate the process, get the information,” he said. “We have a fiduciary responsibility to listen to all arguments and make an educated decision.”
Former City Councilman Eric Onnen also spoke, with a blistering admonishment to initiate the process.
“Don’t tell us the ties of our history are more important than planning our future,” he said.
Another speaker, Brooke Bulkley, bristled at Keston’s approach.
“We’ve seen this before,” he said, conjuring up images of developers approaching areas such as More Mesa and the Carpinteria bluffs. “They all convince you that we should just fall down on our swords because our community will fail without it. The whole country right now is in a state of pause, and I suggest you do the same. ... This place is a treasure.”
City Councilman Michael Bennett spoke first after the hours of public comment ended, saying he couldn’t support initiation. Development may be appropriate in the future, but “not tonight and not tomorrow,” he said. “When something’s gone, you’ve lost it forever.”
Councilman Ed Easton said he wasn’t convinced about the need for new housing.
“Ample land is zoned already, with approved densities,” he said. “This is too big a change to the city to make all at one time.”
Connell thanked city staff and the developer.
“We’ve seen an outpouring on this issue over and above anything we’ve seen for many years,” she said. “I do believe its important to listen and bow to the will of the community.”