[Mission & State note: First in a series on Goleta. Click here to read more stories from the Mission & State in-depth journalism project.]
From a Target store and office buildings to hotels and more than 1,000 new residences, Goleta — affectionately known as the “Goodland” — is in the midst of its biggest growth spurt since it became a city 12 years ago.
With the development, however, come questions about traffic impacts; availability of public services such as water, parks, libraries and recreation; and whether the city is running too fast out of the gates of the recession.
Projects are scattered across the city, mostly along the Hollister Avenue corridor.
But the flurry of development also coincides with the growing popularity of retail, restaurants and hotels along another busy Goleta thoroughfare, Calle Real, on the north side of Highway 101.
And, in what has resulted in somewhat of a perfect storm for Goleta motorists, freeway onramps at Fairview Avenue and Los Carneros Road are simultaneously closed for repairs and flood-control projects, making Goleta Ground Zero for dust, delays and drama.
All this building — current and planned — may seem overwhelming to some.
However, it is consistent with the city’s long-range planning blueprint — the General Plan — both the original, and the one amended in 2008 and 2009.
Supporters tout the fact that the new projects are expected to fuel Goleta's $21 million general fund budget.
Sales tax revenues are projected to rise by 2.5 percent annually through 2018, and property and transient occupancy taxes are estimated to increase by 2 percent each.
“We have a lot of stuff,” said Jennifer Carman, the city’s planning director. “We have had a lot of pent-up demand from the recession.”
Although Goleta has a population of only about 30,000 people, it shares its back and front yards with Isla Vista and UC Santa Barbara. Isla Vista has a population of about 23,000 and UCSB has roughly 20,000 undergraduate students.
Goleta, Isla Vista and UCSB are divided on paper by political boundary lines, but Goleta effectively serves as the hub of retail, housing and public services for many of the people who live in the region.
It is widely thought that a Target, proposed for Hollister Avenue near Los Carneros Road, would bring a halt to the droves of people who travel to Ventura to shop at the popular retail store, and reroute them to Goleta.
Although Santa Barbara fumbled its shot at a Target on city-owned property near the airport several years ago, Goleta officials and the business community seem united in their efforts to attract the store.
At a recent Goleta State of the City presentation, the eclectic crowd of more than 300 cheered in unison at the mention of Target possibly opening its automatic doors in Goleta. Before moving forward, the city is waiting for Target to cut a check to initiate an environmental impact report on the project.
Among the other major projects on the horizon are nearly 500 housing units proposed near Los Carneros Road; 266 residential units on the 7000 block of Hollister Avenue, along with 90,000 square square feet of new retail and office space, across from the Albertsons shopping center; 100 residential units at Willow Springs IIs, on Camino Vista near Los Carneros Road; and 101 homes at The Hideaway on Hollister Avenue, near the Sandpiper Golf Club.
Some longtime residents are cautious about Goleta’s development plans.
“I have to question whether the (City) Council is taking a sufficiently long-term perspective on the future ramifications, given the cost of services rises faster than any projection of city revenues,” said George Relles, a 25-year-resident.
“This council is focused on the city, but I don’t think it has sufficiently taken into account the cumulative impacts of other jurisdictions, whether it is the university’s expansion plans or let’s recall that the city (of Santa Barbara) operates the airport and land on both sides of Hollister.”
The Hollister Village mixed-use project, which is under construction on the 7000 block of Hollister Avenue, will “significantly” worsen traffic at the intersection of Storke Road and Hollister Avenue, and the onramp to Highway 101 on Storke Road during morning peak hours, according to the final environmental impact report.
The project would take the onramp to a “Level D” from a “Level C” during the morning commute.
Overall, the mixed-use development would generate 5,235 new average daily trips in the area of the project, the report states.
On Storke Road, south of Hollister toward the Storke Ranch housing development, traffic levels would increase to 36,520 average daily trips from 33,800 — an 8 percent rise.
In response to the traffic impacts, the developer plans several road improvements, including paying for or constructing an additional lane on Storke Road, and street and traffic-signal modifications to speed up motorists’ ability to get on Highway 101 from Storke Road.
Goleta also is planning for two new hotels and additions to the Cabrillo Business Park and smaller residential projects.
Carman said all of the development is consistent with the city’s General Plan, and that the new homes will allow people to cut out long commute times.
“A lot of folks want to live where they work,” she said. “They would like an option to live in the city where they work instead of driving from Buellton, Ventura and Santa Maria.”
In 2002, the year Goleta incorporated after several prior unsuccessful bids, a slow-growth City Council swept into office, fulfilling the desire of cityhood advocates to break from Santa Barbara County control.
With its own council and planning staff, cityhood advocates believed that Goleta would get the representation it deserved, and guard against development interests on the community’s open space.
But the makeup of the council changed in 2006, with the election of Roger Aceves, Michael Bennett and Eric Onnen. The new council majority, along with Councilwoman Jean Blois, were regarded as more business-friendly than the original Goleta Now! contingent of Cynthia Brock, Margaret Connell, Jack Hawxhurst and Jonni Wallis who, with Blois, served as the first Goleta council.
The Goleta City Council became decidedly more business-friendly with a subsequent wave of new council members, and now many of the political debates on the panel center on development and growth projects.
Bennett, Goleta’s current mayor, laughs when he hears people say there’s a lot of development going on in the city.
“This is not a pro-development community,” he said. “It is not a build-at-all-costs community.”
Bennett said the new housing is needed to feed the demand of Goleta employers.
“I am more interested in real quality development and whether the project makes sense for Goleta,” he said.
Kristen Miller, president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, is excited to see so many of the development projects finally taking shape.
She notes with pride the large Deckers Outdoor Corp. development in Cabrillo Business Park on the corner of Los Carneros Road and Hollister Avenue because it was “10 years” of work.
Development of such type, she said, is exactly what the city needs.
“None of it is a surprise, and none of it is off-road,” said Miller who believes more housing is necessary in Goleta.
“We have become housing advocates,” Miller said. “The housing that is here now is not attainable by people who work here.”
With the expected growth of the high-tech sector, and existing big employers such as Yardi Systems, Citrix Online, Bacara Resort & Spa and Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, Goleta companies need housing for their employees, Miller said.
Too often, she said, she’s heard of employers having to settle for their third and fourth choices when hiring because their top candidates can’t afford housing in the area.
“We all want our school system to have the best teacher,” Miller said.
Among the most visible changes in Goleta will be the Rincon Palms/Hilton Garden Hotel and Restaurant on the corner of Storke and Hollister.
The hotel will join a Marriott Residence Inn in the 6300 block of Hollister closer to the Santa Barbara Airport. These two hotels follow the opening of a Courtyard by Marriott a couple years ago on Storke Road, south of Camino Real Marketplace.
“Our occupancy remains very high out there,” Miller said. “People like to shop from a full shelf. Just by having more inventory, we will gain more visitors.”
As the city grows, conspicuously absent in the wave of development is Old Town Goleta, which largely looks the same today as it did decades ago.
Old Town sports everything from sushi and noodle houses to palm reader shops and the city’s community center. Goleta has long wanted to modernize Old Town, but has yet to pull the trigger, largely for financial reasons.
The loss of the city’s Redevelopment Agency in 2013 put a halt to any immediate plans, although the city is considering moving its City Hall into the Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave., and is exploring the idea of creating a civic center at the site.
Goleta has been working on a flood-control project for San Jose Creek, which runs through the east end of Old Town, a move that insiders believe might spark the private landowners in the area to consider investing in development.
Wherever it is, Relles hopes Goleta officials will consider development as a whole, and not in a vacuum.
“People contemplating development in Goleta need to not only bear in mind the impacts of other jurisdictions, but they need to contemplate that Goleta is unique in other ways,” he said.
Relles noted that motorists have three main routes of transportation — Hollister Avenue, Highway 101 and Cathedral Oaks Road. Drivers already have to use many “go-arounds,” he said, which add up to miles over time.
“It only has three east-west transportation corridors, and unlike even in the city of Santa Barbara, moving north and south, we lack overpasses,” Relles said. “Someone doing something simple like going from Dos Pueblos High School to Costco has to use many, many more miles just to cross the freeway.”
Miller said she hopes Goleta will stay on its current track.
“Our fear is that as soon as something gets built, the no-growthers come out and nothing gets built for 10 years,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a knee-jerk reaction to the growth we’re seeing.”