If you ask outgoing Goleta Mayor Roger Aceves about the one thing that stands out to him about being mayor of the Good Land, he’ll tell you that one year is not enough.
“I found that to be most frustrating,” said Aceves, who ran for the City Council three years ago on a platform of environmental protection, growth management and public safety, and was appointed mayor last year.
Aceves says there’s still so much to do for the small but growing city, and 365 days was not enough. On Tuesday, he will hand over the gavel as the city decides who will be the next mayor and mayor pro tempore for 2010. In Goleta, the mayorship rotates among the elected council members.
Still, for the retired police officer who promised to be the “man in the middle” for a council polarized over development, his was a year of significant accomplishment — as well as some lessons learned.
When Aceves became mayor in December 2008, the city was looking at a budget deficit wrought upon it by its revenue neutrality agreement with the county, and compounded by the state budget woes and an ongoing national recession.
Meanwhile, the young city of 30,000 also was dealing with the possibility of an influx of the new people UCSB was planning to attract to it with its Long-Range Development Plan. At the same time, it was busy dealing with oil company Venoco’s plans to develop a slant-drilling project off the Ellwood shores. And, there was the matter of more than 100 amendments proposed for the small city’s General Plan.
In short, Aceves’ plate was full even before he got to the table.
“I had to ask myself, ‘What can I realistically accomplish, and what can I set in motion for the long term?’” he said.
As for his accomplishments, one thing Aceves said he’s particularly proud of having done is reducing the polarization of politics around development. Not an easy task, if you consider the tension that existed between the city’s original council and the local business and development community.
“I think people know that we have to have some managed growth or we’re not going to be able to provide economically, or housing,” he said, adding that although the city is about 95 percent built out, the council still has to be “very smart” about how it uses the remaining undeveloped land in its boundaries.
Those decisions will be made easier for the city’s planners now that the amendments to the General Plan have been completed, an arduous process that took upon hours of work and public testimony.
“It’s done, and I’m glad we were able to give it due process,” Aceves said. “I feel that I’ve allowed for public input, unrestricted except for in time.”
On the ground, Aceves also has helped see through the opening of Sumida Gardens, the first residential rental project the city has seen in 20 years, as well as Armitos Park, a new public playground and the approval of plans for three hotels that eventually may add to the city’s bed tax revenue, although because of economic and legal issues, the projects may not actually break ground for another couple of years.
And while it’s not readily apparent to residents of the city, the establishment of the city’s own municipal code is something Aceves is proud of having done in his time as mayor. Before that, the city’s policies were taken verbatim from the county’s code.
“We’d open up our code, and it would tell us how to handle streets in New Cuyama or the unincorporated areas in Santa Maria,” he said. “Now it’s all Goleta.”
It’s not all a happy feeling of accomplishment for Goleta’s outgoing mayor, however. The one thing Aceves said he wishes he could go back and redo is the council’s spending on the proposed new city hall at Cabrillo Business Park, given the kind of budget woes the city was getting set to experience.
“We spent over a year deliberating over purchasing city hall. We spent over $100,000 in researching this site,” Aceves said. “If I had to do it again, I would never have authorized that kind of money.”
In light of staff layoffs, which included two full-time sheriff’s deputies, and a weeklong furlough for the entire city hall staff, the money spent on a project that would require dipping into reserves and going into debt seemed hardly worth it to Aceves.
There are things still on the table that will need the attention of the new mayor, such as UCSB’s Long-Range Development Plan, held in abeyance for state budget problems, and Venoco’s plans to develop its slant-drilling project off Platform Holly. He may not be mayor anymore, but Aceves, who has been vocal in his opposition to oil and gas operations in the city, said he’ll find a way to stay involved.
“I’m going to try to find a way to stay on the (city’s) Energy Committee,” he said.
The city’s moratorium on medical-marijuana dispensaries and its Revenue Neutrality Agreement negotiations with the county are still up in the air, too.
“I’m frustrated because we have no meetings scheduled,” Aceves said. “My concern is that by their inaction and our inaction, this is going to return as an election issue next year.”
With several projects and issues he still wants to be involved with, it’s a safe bet that Aceves will try to stay around for a while. In fact, he’s already planning to run again for a council seat when his four-year term is up in November 2010.
For the moment, though, Aceves said he is going to enjoy his final days as mayor.
“I’m very honored that the city hired me on the council and that they also made me mayor,” he said. “My mantra is to be accessible.”
— Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.