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Local News

Candidate Forum: Goleta City Council

The Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce plays host to a discussion on growth, housing and the economy.

The candidates for Goleta City Council — Ed Easton, Jean Blois, Margaret Connell and Don Gilman — were interviewed at a forum luncheon Wednesday by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce on issues nearest and dearest to the local business community.

Except for a heated exchange at the end between Connell and chamber member Tim Mahoney, reminiscent of the bad blood between the city and the chamber during the first years of incorporation, the forum went smoothly, as the candidates outlined their positions, priorities, explanations of the past and strategies for the future.

The city’s General Plan dominated the conversation, with all candidates pledging to work toward the completion of Goleta’s development blueprint, as well as the associated zoning ordinances and coastal land use plan.

How they would like the plan to look differed between the panelists. Slow-growth candidates Connell and Easton worried about the environmental protections they said were being eroded via the ongoing General Plan amendments, while chamber-backed candidates Blois and Gilman praised the changes as tools that would make the plan better.

“I do not believe we are changing the General Plan willy-nilly,” Blois said. “There are about 700 policies in the General Plan, and 77 of them have been questioned.”

On the topic of affordable housing required by the state, Connell, who was once part of the team that put the Housing Element together, and Easton defended the decision to put the units along the Hollister corridor at a density of 20 units per acre.

“If anybody wants to challenge the 20 to the acre, I would challenge them to say where they would want to put those 2,388 units,” said Connell, pointing out that other options involved rezoning agricultural lands, such as Bishop Ranch, for development, a plan once supported by the chamber before the developer withdrew his application earlier this year.

Meanwhile, Blois expressed reservations about rezoning the Hollister corridor properties to residential. Gilman, for his part, refused to pass judgment on the notion, saying he has seen good and bad designs at that density, and it mattered on a case-by case basis.

The local economy was also on the minds of the candidates, given the projected downturn in the city’s budget.

Blois, Connell and Easton acknowledged the first council’s efforts to save for the upcoming three-year rainy day, when one of Goleta’s funding sources from the state dries up and before one of the conditions in the revenue-neutrality agreement between the city and the county backs down. Reserves notwithstanding, Blois, Connell and Gilman said that one of the things they would aim to do is get the tax-sharing agreement with the county revised to be less onerous to the city. 

“I keep beating that drum because that drives so much of what we’re able to do as a city,” Gilman said. The agreement takes about $8.2 million out of a $15 million city budget while it still has to pay $6 million for public safety services from the county, he said.

To create a mutually beneficial relationship between the city and the local business community, a relationship that was once very contentious because of differences in matters of growth and development, Blois, Connell and Gilman agreed that supporting startups, particularly the kind of tech ventures spun off by UCSB, was the way to go.

Easton added that the city and business community should share more information to help decide exactly what kind of business could flourish in the local economy without hurting others, and that slow growth was still necessary. 

“We need to contain the growth so the infrastructure we have could support your businesses,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Sonia Fernandez can be reached at [email protected]

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