The swearing-in of Goleta’s new mayor and council was the big deal last Tuesday at City Hall. But staff and council members had their hands full with other matters, too: streamlining the process in the Planning Department, the loss of a position in the Police Department, and locals concerned with the city’s decision to single-source its solid waste services.
The Goleta City Council last week took its first swipe at a list of optional process and structural changes suggested by staff to make the city’s Planning Department more efficient. According to the staff report, “a significant and unprecedented volume of development projects are undergoing case processing, clearance and inspection by seven city staff members and several contract consultants.”
The crew faces 392 open building permits, 50 discretionary cases that propose to develop 1,341 residential units, 39 ministerial cases, 32 building plan-check reviews and eight offshore energy development cases — all those in addition to green program work and efforts toward the city’s General Plan, its Housing Element, the UCSB Long Range Development Plan and a zoning ordinance that has yet to be completed for the 8-year-old city.
“This is about resource allocation,” said Steve Chase, director of Planning and Environmental Services.
Despite the slow economy, there was a significant increase in demand for planning services in 2010.
The council voted on several specific courses of action for staff to look into further, including the use of a standby contract consultant for environmental impact reports, joint pre-application concept reviews by the Planning Commission and the Design Review Board, and a Revitalization and Economic Development “RED” team, to assist with the processing of economic development projects directed by the city manager. They also approved the recruitment for more help at the planning counter, and other support work.
The council threw out options to restructure the Design Review Board and to limit City Council initiation on General Plan land-use amendments to land conversions only. Staff will return to the council in the near future to further discuss the strategies that might be taken to streamline planning operations.
In other action, the council voted 4-1, with Councilman Roger Aceves dissenting, to discontinue the funding for a detective position within the city’s contract police department. For the council majority, the combination of higher costs and a less robust General Fund was more burden than the budget could bear.
The decision not to fund the position for the remainder of fiscal year 2010-11 means that in January, Goleta will have three detectives contracted from the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department instead of four. Prospects for funding that position remain dim.
“It’s very likely we’ll be discussing other reductions in staffing in the next budget cycle,” then-Mayor Eric Onnen said.
Later, a contingent of Allied Waste employees and supporters showed up to the public comment portion of the council’s meeting to air concerns over the city’s decision in March to go single-source with its solid waste services, choosing trash hauler MarBorg Industries to cover what had been Allied Waste’s territory, effectively kicking Allied Waste out of Goleta.
The territory in Goleta is split roughly in half between MarBorg and Allied Waste (formerly BFI), with MarBorg taking the half south of Hollister Avenue and Allied serving the northern half.
“All we’re asking for is transparency for the Goleta constituents and an opportunity for Allied to compete for the services that we have provided faithfully for 37 years,” Allied Waste general manager Steve MacIntosh said. He and several others urged the council to reconsider its decision in light of the Allied jobs that may be lost with the loss of the contract.
The city is currently in negotiations with MarBorg over trash-hauling service.
Contrary to what was being implied by the Allied Waste contingent, the city has given the trash hauler its opportunity to compete for the contract, according to City Manager Dan Singer.
“There was that opportunity, there was last March,” said Singer, adding that Allied was involved in the discussions over solid waste services before the council’s decision.
The negotiations haven’t yet finalized, and should the city be unsatisfied with the terms, it may open the contract up again, he said. The City Council will have another public meeting on the matter at which time it will take more public testimony, but the council’s direction isn’t likely to change at the moment.
What may have been a strategic move for Allied Waste on Tuesday felt rather inappropriate for Councilman Michael Bennett, who said he was uncomfortable with the flurry of public comment right before the election of the city’s new mayor and council.
“It was just unfortunate,” he told Noozhawk.
Meanwhile, Mario Borgatello of MarBorg defended his company against allegations of territory-grabbing, as well as the city of Goleta’s decision.
“When you look at solid waste services, you have to look at the full spectrum,” he said, pointing out that MarBorg has long been investing in local solid waste infrastructure in the community outside of trash-hauling services. “We invest back in the community.”