If you take a short walk down Phelps Road — the segment east of Storke Road — in Goleta, what you’ll find is a rather sleepy little suburban scene that is the Storke Ranch neighborhood. On the south side of Phelps is the bulk of the planned community, filled with single-family homes arranged in cul-de-sacs that access Phelps via a short feeder street called Bayberry Lane. On the north side of Phelps is the affordable housing component of the neighborhood as well as the Isla Vista Youth Project Children’s Center.
When school’s out, children on bikes roll up and down the street. Neighbors socialize as they walk their dogs. When it’s hot, neighbors on both sides of the street stroll to the swimming pools in the main part of the complex.
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All of that will change, Storke Ranch residents say, if UCSB carries out its long-range development plan, which includes punching through Phelps Road’s cul-de-sac to connect with UCSB’s Mesa Road and the faculty and student housing on the other side.
“It will be an enormous change to our way of life,” Storke Ranch neighbor Cyril Humphries said. One of the main things he, his family and his neighbors are concerned about is the projected increase in traffic that would run up and down the two-lane segment of Phelps Road.
“I heard something like one car every six seconds,” said resident Kelly Hildner, referring to the development plan’s projected increase in street traffic, a result of an estimated 5,000 additional students planned by 2025 and a 1,700-member increase in faculty and support staff to accommodate the student population.
More people would use the road to get to the student and staff housing just on the other side of the chain-link gate that separates Phelps and Mesa roads, neighbors say, especially since UCSB plans to increase the number and density of housing units on its property.
This increase in traffic, they suspect, will be further compounded by people who want to avoid the congestion at the nearby Hollister Avenue/Storke Road intersection, which receives the bulk of cars going to and from the Camino Real Marketplace.
Luann Miller, executive director of the Isla Vista Youth Project’s Children’s Center, shares the Storke Ranch residents’ concerns.
“The Children’s Center is licensed for nearly 100 children and is situated right on Phelps Road,” she said. “Many of the parents walk to the center, pushing their babies and toddlers in strollers … We are concerned about the impact of increased traffic as well as increased noise and air pollution should it become a through street and an alternate route to El Colegio.”
“Why has UCSB given into the car? Given rising oil prices, the internal combustion engine will likely be gone by 2025,” predicted Humphries, suggesting that an alternative-power shuttle would be a better solution than the potential widening and extension of Phelps Road and thousands of additional parking spaces on campus.
This outcry is but one of several situations UCSB might expect as it gets closer to completing its long-range development plan, which anticipates the next 20 years of growth for the campus.
Having earned a reputation as one of the world’s foremost research institutions, UCSB is planning to beef up its academic plan and, concurrently, its physical development. The university has determined that more housing is necessary to attract and retain faculty, staff and students.
A vigorous public outreach campaign has been under way for more than a year as UCSB representatives Marc Fisher, associate vice chancellor for campus design and facilities, and Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas presented the plan to segments of the community, informing residents of the proposed development, the increased population and the university’s plans to mitigate the effects on the community.
The public outreach is in contrast to the last long-range development plan, which was carried out with minimal input from the community. This time, the public comment period was extended to 90 days from 45 to accommodate all comments. Lucas says UCSB will hear the public’s input as the plan makes its way to the state Coastal Commission and the UC Regents later this year.
“It’s not over yet,” he said. “People will have the chance to comment on the plan, and we’ll respond to their concerns.”
The answer to the Phelps Road conundrum, it turns out, may not even lie with the university. While the city can’t directly control the amount or density of the population that UCSB intends to house on campus (UCSB-owned property is considered state land and thus not under local jurisdiction), Phelps Road is owned by the city of Goleta.
“The university assumes away a number of issues,” said Steve Chase, Goleta’s planning and environmental services director. It needs to make certain assumptions, but by doing so with issues such as traffic, UCSB chooses not to address them, he said. “There’s no contingency planning,” he added.
The reason Phelps Road hasn’t been extended so far has to do with community development and wetlands protections. Goleta is wary of the effects of the increased population coming from UCSB’s development. While the long-range development plan assumes the university’s population generally will remain on campus and therefore be able to get back and forth using the plan’s much-touted Greensward, according to Chase, chances are that the increase in the student and faculty population still will affect traffic in the community.
What the situation boils down to, Chase says, is the community’s tolerance and the city’s intentions when it comes to dealing with development.
“It comes down to whether you want to use an intersection such as Storke and Phelps as a growth-control measure by not adding lanes to discourage growth, or do you create your intersections to accommodate what’s going on around them land-use-wise?” Chase said.
Under the transportation element of Goleta’s General Plan, the policy has been to curb growth. If those rules remain in place after the city finishes its ongoing revisions to the plan, it’s not likely that Phelps will widen or be extended. It’s important to remember, however, that UCSB is a major economic engine that has been instrumental in the shaping of the Goleta Valley, Chase said. There’s a natural tension between the university, which is striving to be one of the best in the world, and a community that’s trying to determine its own development.
“That (tension) needs to shake out through dialogue, public meetings and comment letters,” he said.
Goleta has not yet made formal comments on the long-range development plan. The staff is analyzing the plan and writing letters, which will be brought to the Goleta City Council’s June 17 meeting. The public comment period for UCSB’s plan ends June 23. Comments can be made at the upcoming public hearing, by mail or by e-mail.
Meanwhile, Storke Ranch residents are gearing up for a UCSB-sponsored public hearing at Isla Vista Theater at 7 p.m. June 4. The homeowners association has decided to hire an attorney to look into the plan and may contract with a traffic engineer.
“It’s a bit like David and Goliath,” Humphries said. “But, David won in the end.”