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Friday, March 22 , 2019, 7:51 am | Fair 44º

 
 
 
 

Goleta Council Forges Ahead with General Plan Amendments

On a 4-1 vote, the council endorses a progress report. North Fairview residents draw battle lines over inclusion.

A progress report on the Goleta General Plan amendment process stirred up old tensions Tuesday night as the City Council voted 4-1 to forge ahead with the process. Councilwoman Margaret Connell was the lone dissenter.

“My concern is that there were an enormous amount of changes that were made that did not need to be made,” said Connell, a member of the council/planning agency that produced the city’s original General Plan.

Started in late 2006 with the seating of a new council majority — Michael Bennett, Jean Blois and Eric Onnen — Goleta’s development blueprint and the myriad amendments to its policies, ranging from relatively minor fixes to controversial changes, has generated its fair share of contention between the city’s slow-growth and development-minded factions.

The amendment process runs simultaneously on roughly six tracks: the as-yet uncertified Housing Element; minor policy revisions and a resulting subgroup of building intensity fixes; substantive policy revisions requiring extensive environmental assessment; requests by developers of specific projects to the General Plan; and the city’s Sphere of Influence — a delineation of the city’s current and future service areas.

“I am concerned that so many changes were initiated so quickly,” said Cynthia Brock, who was also a member of the council that put together the plan’s first version. The initial plan, reflective of the first council’s slow-growth attitude, became the target of several lawsuits because of what were deemed to be too many restrictions on development. At least part of Brock’s concern was that the amendments were more of a result of the litigation, as opposed to sound planning.

Meanwhile, other members of the public had concerns over the substantive changes to the plan that bring up conservation issues, like how close development can be to local creeks and other environmentally sensitive habitats.

“We have had concerns about the Track 3 amendments since they were presented,” said Connie Hannah, speaking for the League of Women Voters. She suggested the work program be reopened to reassess those amendments.

By far the biggest outcry, however, came from people who are not residents of the city of Goleta — and wish to remain that way.  Residents of the rural North Fairview neighborhood — just outside the city’s northern boundaries — were vocal about their opposition to the proposed inclusion of their streets within the city’s Sphere of Influence.

“The city of Goleta’s reputation has been tarnished, because you are not willing to listen to the will of the people,” said North Fairview resident Sharon Wilson.

According to other neighbors at the meeting, the majority of residents in that area have been outspoken in their opposition to their neighborhood’s inclusion for almost two years.

Known as “Area C,” the neighborhood is one of several unincorporated areas just outside Goleta’s boundaries. Other areas include what is called the South Patterson ag block, south of Hollister Avenue and east of Highway 217, as well as Glen Annie Golf Course, an agriculturally zoned property whose owners want it included in the city’s Sphere of Influence.

Part of the neighbors’ concern is that inclusion in the city’s sphere will lead to annexation, the moving of the city’s urban limit line to include their neighborhood, and a potential for land-use changes to the rural area.

Meanwhile, Goleta officials, citing direct impacts that those areas could have on the city, proposed those areas for inclusion in their application to the Santa Barbara Local Area Formation Commission. Most, if not all, of the streets into those neighborhoods are accessible only through Goleta city streets.

For Onnen, the will of the people meant specifically the interest of the citizens of the city.

“I want to apologize,” he said to the neighbors. “It’s not that you weren’t heard ... (but) impacts to North Fairview will impact the city of Goleta.”

North Fairview residents still have recourse: the matter is due to be heard by the Santa Barbara LAFCO, the body that approves service areas and Spheres of Influence.

Despite misgivings certain council members had with regards to issues like the Sphere of Influence or the number of amendments to the General Plan, most were not willing to halt the process. For one thing, major changes to the work program might trigger the recirculation of the Draft Environmental Impact Report for the Track 3 revisions, an extensive document that is, according to planning and environmental services director Steve Chase, at the printers and due to be published soon.

Other members felt the revisions were not yet cast in stone, and that the public would still be able to weigh in on the issues that matter to them. Council members can call for a public hearing to reopen the General Plan program issue; the meeting Tuesday evening was strictly informational.

“I don’t think there’s anything to fear,” said Bennett.

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