Thursday, June 21 , 2018, 9:48 am | Overcast 63º


Eric Onnen: Logic Requires a Goleta Council Vote for Bishop Ranch Initiation

By keeping the development decision in the planning process, the city will have more control over its outcome

On Tuesday, the Goleta City Council will be faced with the challenging decision on whether to initiate further study on the potential of developing the Bishop Ranch property.

Eric Onnen
Eric Onnen

This consideration has been dwelling in Goleta’s future since the city’s first day. Approximately two years ago, the initiation question was on the council’s agenda and I was sitting in a decision maker’s seat. Circumstances at that time caused the applicant to withdraw the request, without a council decision.

At the time, the debate about how to proceed was the same as it is today, with much of the focus on the issues of agricultural viability and community values. The city of Goleta’s recent study helped clarify some issues, but this is not a debate of facts. It is really about philosophy and political consequence.

It is an important issue for the city and will have real and lasting effects with either a yes or no vote. It is also a very emotionally charged subject for many and represents a symbolic monument of values. So there is a willingness, for some, to fight and risk much to prevent the process from proceeding. I am greatly concerned that the potential downside is too great compared to potential gain!

After serving four years on the council, I find myself going through the decision process as if I were still there. Putting myself in the role of our decision makers, some of the points that would guide me are as follows:

» Why does the city need to address this now? The city has a significant number of housing units in the process now without Bishop Ranch. Shouldn’t they be completed before more are considered? Unfortunately, the timing of when development comes forward is not completely up to city planning. This timing is determined by the marketplace and the irrational exuberance of those willing to take the risk. I see the city’s role as determining what will come from development and allowing the other factors to create the timeline. What will be created needs to be consistent with our community values and character to protect our quality of life and preserve our physical environment for current residents and future generations.

So the question is before the council now and must be answered. The practical course is to continue the process and plan the future now, within our city process that keeps the control of the outcome in the hands of the local community. Alternatively, stopping the process now will likely put the issue into a legal process that lacks local control and may have severe financial consequence. Should the city spend the next few years in court, spending hundreds of thousands of our precious General Fund dollars on lawyers, or should it spend those years allowing the developer to pay for the studies needed to plan this potential development. Logic here requires a vote for initiation!

» Will this potential development and others in the process change our small town into something less? Potential growth in housing in Goleta, including Bishop Ranch, is approximately 20 percent. This will likely occur over the next 10 to 20 years depending on market demands. That translates to an annual growth rate of 1 percent to 2 percent during that period. Through a diligent planning process, we can preserve and protect our community and accommodate this modest growth. Our economic vitality will be enhanced, creating opportunity for the workforce to live here and retain the jobs here now and those of the future. It is reasonable to believe that there can be a balance between quality of life and growth based on this information. Logic here requires a vote for initiation!

» Could community values of open space, views, recreation, environmental and agricultural protections be compromised? Initiation is the start of the process not the end. In the next steps these values will be the driving force that determines what is appropriate for our community. We will have the opportunity to capture benefits, mitigate impacts and craft a project that fits Goleta. If that cannot be done, the city has no obligation to approve anything. Those future decisions will be based on a real plan and not a hypothetical concept, allowing for a more fact-based outcome. Logic here requires a vote for initiation!

» Is it political suicide for current decision makers to allow initiation to move forward? The fundamental purpose of our elected officials is to balance the desires of competing interests in our community. In this case, the excessive fears of some and the exuberance of a potential developer. To ensure this happens, there is an established process, public participation and legal requirements that protect property rights and community values. The input from participants has been mixed and both sides have valid concerns that can be addressed if the process continues.

Goleta needs the diversity of representation on our city council to make sure all views are considered. From my experience the folks in this community respect and appreciate an honest, thoughtful and fair elected representative. The values that our current elected officials represent will remain if the Bishop Ranch initiation goes forward. In fact, those values have the best opportunity to be applied and implemented should development occur. Therefore, the courage required in this decision demonstares leadership abilities many will acknowledge. Logic here requires a vote for initiation!

The practical reality we are dealing with is a choice of planning Goleta’s future or picking a fight today about Goleta’s past. Let’s delay the fight if, and until, it is really necessary. Give this applicant full opportunity to present its plan and make the real decisions on real information. Logic again requires a vote for initiation.

— Eric Onnen is a former Goleta city councilman.

Bishop Ranch Property Study Master 072111 JMC


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