Thursday, November 15 , 2018, 5:59 am | Fair 44º

 
 
 
 

Maturing As a City, Goleta Increasingly Means Business

Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce praises the city's progress over its first 10 years while pointing out ways to fuel more business innovation

In a way, Kristen Miller is celebrating her 10-year anniversary, too.

Miller started her job as president and CEO of the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce in 2002 when the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors was the only legislative body with political oversight in the community.

But there was a disconnect between business, residents and the county; Goleta had grown too big to only have the county listening to them, Miller said.

“Goleta either didn’t get enough attention on things they wanted to do or got too much attention on development projects,” she said.

When residents voted on Feb. 1, 2002, for Goleta’s break from the county and for its cityhood, it wasn’t clear what that would mean from a business and development standpoint, Miller said.

“It wasn’t 100 percent clear if the cityhood would (add another layer of bureaucracy and) stop all growth or it would give more local control, make the community better and give businesses some staying power,” she recalled.

Trepidation aside, community pride was high and it was a significant step for Goleta, Miller said.

“It was about Goleta growing up and taking a stand,” she said. “We were no longer the forgotten stepchild, no longer the hinterland you came to for Costco. We wanted to have an identity of our own.”

In the early days, the City Council signed a revenue-neutrality agreement with the county as a condition of its incorporation and imposed a building moratorium. Although the latter action allowed the city’s fledgling staff to get organized, the decision essentially place a hold on local business, Miller said.

“Unfortunately, when you stir the pot and take the stick out for too long, it stops spinning, and that’s what happened the next few years,” she said. “Developers knew they couldn’t get permits.”

But the city has come a long way since then, Miller said.

Mark Mattingly, vice president of Pacifica Commercial Realty, said the progress has been impressive.

“Now that Goleta has jurisdiction over its own affairs, the city has demonstrated its desire to cultivate a healthy business environment,” he said. “Goleta has always been the technology hub of the South Coast. This is due in large part today to the transfer of technology from UCSB’s world-class engineering departments.”

In the fourth quarter of 2011, the Goleta office market vacancy rate dropped 1.9 percent to 10 percent as companies like Deckers Outdoor Corp., Citrix, AppFolio, Yardi Systems, Network Hardware Resale, ATK Aerospace Systems, FLIR Commercial Vision Systems and Arthrex expanded.

“We have a terrific City Council that is balanced in trying to meet business needs as well as all the needs and priorities of the community,” said Craig Zimmerman, president of The Towbes Group. “A good example of that is the new housing units built that are affordable for the workforce.”

Miller agreed, adding that it’s about a carefully planned growth process.

“This time last year we did an overview on where the city is on housing and what we found was pretty good,“ Miller said. “We have 1,100 units moving through the pipeline that look pretty balanced.”

A new hotel, Courtyard by Marriott on the corner of Storke and Phelps roads south of Camino Real Marketplace, is expected to open later this year fall. As the revenue-neutrality agreement with the county expires this summer, Goleta will gain about $3 million annually in bed tax.

Camino Real Marketplace is filling vacant space and a Target store planned for the northeast corner of Hollister Avenue and Los Carneros Way would bring in more sales tax, as well.

A new Target also presents opportunity, said Mike Sheldon, CEO of Network Hardware Resale, 6500 Hollister Ave.

“Developing that Hollister corridor is something that should’ve been done long ago,” he said. “They (the city) have the opportunity to turn Goleta into a thriving business community. I would love to see them encourage more commercial development on Hollister and Old Town.”

Projects the city prioritizes, like Deckers, take less time, Zimmerman said. Otherwise, the planning process delays need to change, Miller said.

“If the economy turns around and businesses need to expand, we can’t wait four years,” Sheldon added.

As construction costs have come down and interest rates hit historic lows, the city must incentivize private developers to build mixed-use commercial developments, he said.

“If we want businesses to move or build here, Goleta should have a reputation as friendly and easy to work with, but it doesn’t have that reputation today,” Sheldon said. “We’re growing rapidly and will need more space. We want to stay here and if Goleta was more pro-business and pro-development, that would go a long way.”

One of the ways to expedite projects would be to reorganize the planning department, both Miller and Zimmerman said.

“They could decentralize some of the smaller decisions so things can happen more quickly,” Zimmerman said. “The planning department could put together a calendar of objectives so the applicant has an expectation of the time it will take.”

Goleta also could take care of its tourists better, whether they are business travelers or UCSB-bound, said Phil Wyatt, founder and CEO of Wyatt Technology, 6300 Hollister Ave.

But one of the things Goleta has consistently done well is keeping UCSB graduates local, Sheldon said.

“There’s a great group of young people at UCSB, and about half of our employees come from the university,” he said.

Assets like the Cabrillo Business Park, the sprawling, 965,000-square-foot office park under development by Sares-Regis Group at the southwest corner of Hollister and Los Carneros Road, will give more graduates a place to work and will help establish Goleta as a leader in innovation, Miller said.

“I hope that we really become an innovation hub for business, and I hope it becomes an exciting place to grow a startup,” she said.

Just as Miller wasn’t quite sure what to expect from the Goleta Valley 10 years ago, the next decade holds plenty of uncertainty. But after 10 years on its own, Goleta is deservedly proud, she said.

“It was a logical step to move to incorporation,” Mattingly said. “And the results to date should make all of us who supported the formation of the city of Goleta proud of the decision to do so.”

» 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 business writer Alex Kacik 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 and Pinterest.

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