Haskell’s Beach may be more rock than sand at times but open access to it has been a point of pride for locals. (Sonia Fernandez photo / Noozhawk)


Goleta City Council took into consideration suggestions for amendments to the city’s General Plan on Tuesday evening from Bacara Resort & Spa

, voting to proceed with some of the changes on the luxury hotel’s wish list.

The amendments suggested by Bacara would clear the way for a 62-unit hotel condominium complex, located in the area of the current public parking and Haskell’s Beach access area. According to plans by Bacara, the parking and beach access would be relocated east of their present locations.

Among the proposed amendments were changes to the 24-hour public access to Haskell’s Beach, Goleta’s only public beach. Other proposed amendments dealt with designations of open space and environmentally sensitive habitat areas, the flexibility of building guidelines, and the updating of flood and tsunami hazard data for the coastal property.

While the hotel condominium has long been part of Bacara’s plans to complete its development, no permits have been issued for the project. Failure to initiate the amendments, according to the Bacara presentation, would not only foreclose on what is being called the “completion phase project,” but would also mean the resort would proceed with its two pending lawsuits against the city.

The council Tuesday initiated some, but not all, of the proposed amendments.

The council voted unanimously to deny Bacara’s requests for time limits on public access, despite assertions from hotel representatives that a cap on public access would help control nighttime vandalism and unruly behavior, and urgings from local Chumash representatives that the all-hours access encourages the disruption of archaeological sites in the area.

“I’ve had to pick up bones from my ancestor, and rebury them,” said Chumash representative Janet Garcia. “That is not a fun thing to do.”

The 24/7 access to Haskell’s Beach is a Coastal Commission stipulation and has historically been a sticking point for many local beachgoers, some of whom see Bacara’s endeavors to limit access from sunset to sunrise as an attempt to block locals from the beach.

Meanwhile, the council did vote to look into the possibility of relocating accessways to the beach, in the event that the hotel condominium project was approved, and removing environmentally sensitive habitat area designations in areas where there were previous petroleum-related operations.

The council, however, resisted the hotel’s request to consider redesignating the shoreline and beach as “Private with a Public Access Easement,” choosing instead to retain its original designation as “Regional Open Space.”  Furthermore, the open space designation would apply to any location to where the public access trail would be moved.

The council also disagreed with Bacara’s idea that certain views from the resort’s property are only scenic in one direction, an amendment that would give the resort more flexibility in building, and it voted to update city databases on flood and tsunami events citywide.

In other Bacara-related news, the

Goleta Planning Commission

recently voted to recommend to the council the provision for the land use and financial mechanism that would allow hotel condominiums in Goleta. The current plan, in an effort to protect city tax revenues, has no such provisions.

Unlike regular hotel rooms, hotel condominiums are owned and, when occupied by their owners, are not subject to the transient occupancy taxes that are levied on guests who stay in hotel rooms.

Because of the Coastal Commission’s priorities, which include limiting residential and private uses of coastal properties, hotel condominiums in California are generally limited to one owner each, and the owner is allowed to stay up to 30 consecutive days, with a maximum of 90 days out of the year. The units would function as regular hotel rooms requiring bed taxes for the other 275 days in operation.

Under the revenue neutrality agreement with Santa Barbara County, 40 percent of all bed taxes from hotels existing prior to the city’s RNA go to the county, a provision that will last until 2012. All new bed taxes, however, would go to the city. Bacara’s proposed hotel condominiums, if approved, would represent a significant new funding source for Goleta, which anticipates a flat financial outlook in upcoming fiscal years.

It is as yet unclear whether the hotel intends to push forward with its pending litigation. The next step, according to the city, would be to flesh out the hotel condominium project, for which the application is currently incomplete.