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Goleta Keen on Dialogue Over UCSB Long-Range Planning

Despite the economic downturn, city and university officials vow to continue discussing how the university plans to grow

Plans for UCSB’s long-range development may have stalled because of the economy, but Goleta city officials continue to push for information and a dialogue with the university.

The struggling economy in California and across the nation has slowed down the university’s efforts to move ahead with its Long Range Development Plan, Goleta City Manager Dan Singer said at Monday’s meeting of the city’s Town and Gown Committee, a panel consisting of Councilmembers Margaret Connell and Ed Easton.

The meeting, a first for the committee, was mostly informational, as the staff prepares for a series of talks with the university on its plans for growth.

“What’s the new schedule? That’s what we need to know,” Singer said.

Under the previous timeframe, the university would have offered up its plans for approval late last year or earlier this spring, but the tough times have meant the process has been slowed. The next anticipated hearing before the UC Board of Regents will take place this fall.

Despite a delay that could take years before any major development starts in the Goleta Valley, Singer said, it is important to know where the university stands with its plans to provide for an increase of about 5,000 students, and the concurrent increase in faculty and workers needed to provide for the population growth.

The plans for an additional 5,000 students was not a number mandated by the UC Regents, but rather a plan developed by the university itself, Singer said.

“That beckons the question of whether a different number may be appropriate for the LRDP,” he said.

The UCSB LRDP is a plan that spans several years of growth and development on the university campus. The push for an additional 5,000 students is likely to be the last, as the university has stated its intentions to cap enrollment at 25,000 students from the 20,000-student enrollment it has now. According to the LRDP, the push will be for more graduate students in order to develop UCSB’s role as a top research university. UCSB is one of the largest employers in Santa Barbara County.

However, the university’s population growth, taken alongside the anticipated population growth in the city and unincorporated areas of the Goleta Valley, could be problematic in terms of traffic, housing, water supply and municipal services, Planning and Environmental Services Director Steve Chase said.

“Their model is insular,” he noted, adding that the projected effects from the LRDP’s environmental document do not take into account additional traffic patterns triggered by trips off campus. Nor does the Environmental Impact Report, which has not been released yet since its recirculation, pace the rate of housing provided with the estimated population increase.

The mitigations set by the university won’t compensate for the impacts the project will have; planning needs to take the Goleta Valley as a whole, Chase said.

Meanwhile, the county has also been wary of the LRDP, saying that it would need far more money to make infrastructure improvements and provide additional services than what the university has offered.

Solutions on the table thus far include not just mitigations for impacts, but also an avoidance of impacts, such as not allowing freshmen and sophomore students to have cars on campus, a practice widely used by universities across the country. Also being considered is enhanced bus transportation.

Goleta, for its part, will have to consider what kind of a stance it will take with regards to its negotiations with UCSB. So far, the city is leaning away from the notion of litigation and more toward dialogue.

“We want to move toward something more meaningful,” Singer said.

Talks with university officials begin Tuesday.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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