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Naomi Kovacs of the Citizens Planning Foundation welcomes attendees to Wednesday night’s Goleta City Council forum with candidates, from left, Jean Blois, Ed Easton, Don Gilman and Margaret Connell. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

For all the distinctions that the candidates for Goleta City Council try to make about themselves, Wednesday night’s forum at the Goleta Valley Community Center was largely about areas where they agreed.

“This isn’t about development vs. slow growth,” said Margaret Connell, a candidate who already has served as a Goleta council member and was the city’s first mayor. The issues Goleta faces have more to do with the rate of growth and the rules that guide that growth, she said.

The panel, which also included incumbent council member Jean Blois, current planning commissioner Ed Easton and local businessman Don Gilman, could still be divided into pairs, with Blois and Gilman more accepting of growth and development and Easton and Connell decidedly more slow-growth minded, but in several key areas, they echoed one another’s sentiments.

The city’s revenue-neutrality agreement, for instance — the tax-sharing agreement the city entered into with the county as a prerequisite for incorporation — was an issue they agreed should be revisited.  The agreement requires that up to half of certain city revenues be shared with the county, some of it in perpetuity.

The degree to which the RNA should be dealt with differed from candidate to candidate, however, with Gilman being the most vocal about taking out the “in perpetuity” clause in potential future negotiations with county officials and changing the basis of the calculations from a percentage of revenue to a flat fee.

Easton, on the other end, defended the percentage scheme, saying it protected Goleta’s revenues in times of financial downturn, and pushed more for working out alternatives with the county, whom he said was in worse financial condition than the city.

On the topic of Bishop Ranch development, again the candidates agreed that housing that has been proposed by the landowners on the 240-acre agriculturally-zoned site is not necessary at this time and potentially could be used for agriculture if it could be made feasible. 

Bishop Ranch has long been a point of contention for locals who argue that more housing is needed and those who say it should be kept open space. It was also one of the defining lines in the 2006 elections that changed the slow-growth majority on the dais to a more pro-business and development one.

The developer earlier this year withdrew his application in the face of little support by the city, eliminating a lot of potential contention in these elections. Bishop Ranch, however, remains in the background and will continue to do so as the largest swath of undeveloped space within Goleta’s urban limits.

The candidates also agreed that more information was needed to establish the need for the new hotels provided for in the General Plan’s hotel overlays, and whether new hotels, while providing much-needed bed tax that wouldn’t be subject to the RNA, would negatively affect the earnings of existing hotels.

They agreed on the need for public access to Haskell’s Beach, as well as making housing accessible to local workers.

What voters may need to look at to choose their candidate most likely will have to do with the candidates’ experience, endorsements and their core opinions toward the rate of and guidelines for development in the city. Blois and Gilman support the ongoing amendments to the city’s General Plan, which they say needed more flexibility to be workable, while Easton and Connell said most of the changes most likely would lead to increased traffic and environmental impacts.

Another area of difference is in the methods the panel suggested to increase revenue to the city in the face of an upcoming budget downturn. Gilman advocated for a better RNA, and Blois said more hotels — and more bed tax — would be a good option. Connell and Easton said the upcoming four-year downturn in the city’s budget was planned by the first City Council, who put together adequate reserves just for this purpose.

The forum was a joint production of the Citizens Planning Foundation and the League of Women Voters. The forum will be broadcast over channels 17 and 21. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at