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After 10 Years As a City, Goleta Leaders Are Proud of the Past and Optimistic About the Future

Realizing a decade of progress, officials look forward to some revenue rewards despite a challenging economy

Travel west on Hollister Avenue, and you’ll not only pass through the heart of Goleta, but the course of triumphs and struggles the community has taken during its first 10 years as a city.

Founded on Feb. 1, 2002, Goleta marks its 10-year anniversary Wednesday. Just where the city has been, and where it’s going, will likely be on the minds of those gathered to celebrate.

Goleta made the break from Santa Barbara County in a referendum after three previous attempts at cityhood.

At the time, the only political representation that Goleta Valley residents had was through the county Board of Supervisors, and several thousand signatures were gathered to put the cityhood initiative on the ballot.

The day after voters made it official, newly christened Goletans packed into a celebration held at the former Good Earth restaurant on Calle Real.

“The energy was pretty high,” recalled City Councilwoman Margaret Connell, Goleta’s first mayor.

Soon after, the City Council held its first semi-official meeting in the auditorium of the Goleta Valley Community Center in Old Town. Connell recruited a friend to take the minutes.

Ed Easton, Goleta’s current mayor, recalled walking over to the community center that day.

“I don’t think I had begun to understand how big a thing it was,” he said. Reflecting on what has happened since, he remarked, “I think what we’ve done is really incredible.”

Outside the community center walls, not much has changed in the city’s Old Town district. It’s a neighborhood with a unique patina. Among the family-owned businesses, the character, as well as the challenges, are evident.

Much of the funding that would have been used to improve Old Town disappeared when the state of California dissolved local redevelopment agencies in January. Older cities, like Santa Barbara, had had more time to reap the benefits of that funding before the cutoff. Not so for Goleta.

“(More established cities) got to realize their vision,” said City Manager Dan Singer. “What’s so cruel is that we were just getting started.”

How Goleta keeps its vision for Old Town without that funding remains a challenge. Nevertheless, Singer is the most optimistic about the city’s financial picture than he’s been for the past three years.

Farther west along Hollister, off of Los Carneros Road, Singer sits in his City Hall office. The building is leased in a shared business park made up of tech companies — a seemingly appropriate place for the young city to call home.

Six and a half years ago, Singer was offered the job in Goleta, as well one in a more established city. On the same day.

“Goleta was young, a little chaotic, a little uncertain in terms of its direction and future and identity,” he said.

He quickly accepted the job — and the challenge — of working in a newly formed city.

“What I quickly saw with Goleta was a real strong sense of what it didn’t want to be,” he said.

But there was a lack of direction, and an opaque sense of where residents wanted to go.

“We didn’t want to be a tourist destination, or a university town,” he said. “We didn’t want to be everyone’s dumping ground.”

In 2003, the city began to craft its General Plan, and three years later it was approved. While various councils have been more pro or anti-growth, the city strives for balance.

Open space, like Ellwood Mesa, has been preserved in several parts of the city. Development, although slowed by the economy, has also grown in the last several years.

This year isn’t just symbolically important for the city of 30,000, but financially as well. Goleta stands to gain about $3 million annually in bed tax starting this summer when a revenue-neutrality agreement with the county expires. The agreement, which was negotiated as a condition of cityhood, harnessed significant portions of Goleta’s bed, sales and property taxes.

But the money gained back this year will amount to about 20 percent of the city’s General Fund budget, an increase most cities can only dream of in a still-fragile economy.

Other bonuses are likely. A Courtyard by Marriott hotel on the corner of Storke and Phelps roads south of Camino Real Marketplace, is expected to open this fall. It’s a project the city never included in its revenue projections.

“We didn’t know when it would be built,” explained Singer, adding that the project’s bed tax alone could be as much as $500,000 annually.

Camino Real Marketplace, at Storke and Hollister, has announced that new stores will be filling the space left by last year’s closure of Borders, and a Target store proposed at Hollister and Los Carneros Way would generate even more sales tax for the city.

Looking further west, past the Winchester Canyon Road exit, the city’s end fades into a vision of its past.

Ag land and hills dotted with avocado trees make up the landscape, with the occasional home nestled between. It’s a history that Goleta’s leaders want to preserve while moving into the next 10 years. The city continues to come into its own, not just with burgeoning private development, but with public as well.

An overhauled Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital, a new fire station, and even the possibility of a newly built city hall are all in the works.

“The tools we’re going to have to see change in this community are significant,” Singer said. “It’s truly going to be a remarkable time in the city’s history.”

» Click here for a related story.

F.Y.I.

To celebrate 10 years as a city, Goleta is throwing a birthday party from 2 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 12, at the Goleta Valley Community Center, 5679 Hollister Ave. The public is invited to enjoy birthday cake and musical performances by local school groups in a family-friendly setting. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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