People on both sides of Measure G, the Agricultural Land Protection Initiative for Goleta, debated its merits Wednesday at a roundtable hosted by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.
If approved by voters Nov. 6, the initiative would require majority approval from voters before the city can redesignate certain agricultural parcels larger than 10 acres.
The Chamber of Commerce’s Peter Brown explained that there are only six parcels within the city limits that apply, but about 120 parcels in Santa Barbara County are within the city’s planning area, so they could also be impacted.
Advocates argue the initiative is an extra layer of protection for the city’s General Plan, while opponents argue that it’s unnecessary.
Bob Wignot, a member of the city’s Design Review Board, and George Relles helped create the measure with the Goodland Coalition.
They argued that the General Plan shouldn’t be subjected to the “whims of future council majorities,” adding that voters should get the final say to protect the carefully crafted balance of agricultural, residential and commercial properties.
Attorneys at the Environmental Defense Center drafted the measure and endorsed it, along with many local political and policy organizations.
In the case of the Bishop Ranch development, city leaders have listened to the public and consistently denied efforts for large-scale projects, Bennett noted.
Even successful projects take years to go through all the planning hoops: “It’s just the South Coast philosophy of ‘go slow,’” he said.
Onnen said Goleta can already control growth and have effective land use planning, and that the measure does nothing to protect or promote local agriculture.
The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce opposes Measure G, and it was clear from individual questions that many members are skeptical.
They asked what “heritage farmland” actually means — a “warm, fuzzy term” to recall Goleta’s history of farming, Relles acknowledged — and wanted to know when projects would be brought to the ballot.
Measure G doesn’t specify that, but Relles said the intent is to bring projects to voters after the City Council has taken action to redesignate the land.
Opponents said they also worry about unintended consequences of the initiative if it passes.
Developers can, under state law, try to get their projects approved by voters without going through the city planning process, as Fess Parker tried for his hotel on Santa Barbara’s waterfront.
Someone asked if Measure G could pressure more developers to try that route, but Relles said it hasn’t been an issue in Ventura or Buellton, which have passed SOAR (Save Open Space and Agricultural Resources) initiatives.
The policy roundtable came one day after the news of developer Michael Keston vacating his claim to develop the 240-acre Bishop Ranch property, which is the biggest agricultural parcel in the city limits impacted by Measure G.
Keston and Bishop Ranch 2000 LLC’s years-long efforts to build 1,200 residential units and commercial space on that open space was a major motivator for the ballot initiative, so it remains unclear if the news will impact the election.