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Connell, Easton Claim Seats on Goleta City Council

Slow-growth majority returns to power as Blois is ousted.

Victorious Goleta City Council candidates Margaret Connell and Ed Easton celebrate with supporters Tuesday night.
Victorious Goleta City Council candidates Margaret Connell and Ed Easton celebrate with supporters Tuesday night. (Sonia Fernandez / Noozhawk photo)

Two years after a business-friendly majority was elected to the Goleta City Council, Margaret Connell and Ed Easton were voted into office Tuesday, signaling a return of the slow-growth majority that had led the city since its inception in 2002.

The race was close, with four candidates for the two seats each taking about a quarter of the 17,480 votes cast. Ultimately, Connell, a former councilwoman and mayor ousted in 2006, was the top vote-getter with 28.27 percent of the total, or 4,942 votes. Easton, a city planning commissioner, was second with 26.72 percent, or 4,671 votes. Businessman Don Gilman received 23.42 percent, or 4,093 votes. Finishing last was Councilwoman Jean Blois, who won 21.45 percent, or 3,750 votes. The reason for the discrepancy in the overall vote totals was not immediately clear.

“It’s been a long race and a tough race,” Connell said at a Tuesday night victory party at Chili’s in the Camino Real Marketplace. “It’s probably the toughest race I’ve ever had.”

Connell and Easton will join Councilman Roger Aceves, the incoming mayor, in a new slow-growth majority — in contrast to the business-friendly majority that took over in 2006 when retired Santa Barbara County fire Battalion Chief Michael Bennett and businessman Eric Onnen were swept into office, along with Aceves.

It would be tempting for the newly elected council members to take a break, especially after the months of precinct-walking and speech-giving, but Connell and Easton will have to hit the ground running. The 6-year-old city faces a budget downturn expected to last for about three years, a revenue-neutrality agreement with the county that many believe needs renegotiation, a relationship with a growing university that needs to be strengthened, a General Plan that still hasn’t been completely amended, a slant-drilling project Venoco Inc. is proposing just two miles offshore and, more immediately, the heightened risk to life and property caused by potential floods and mudflows from the Gap Fire burn area in the foothills above the city limits.

The plan is not necessarily to take the council in a new direction, Connell said.

“But what we really promoted in our campaign was that what we needed was slow, very carefully managed growth,” she said.

Growth has been a main issue in Goleta from the beginning, when the slow-growth group GoletaNow!, of which Connell was a member, led the city to its successful incorporation in 2002. In 2006, a business- and development-minded majority made up of Bennett, Blois and Onnen led the city, starting with a laundry list of amendments to the city’s General Plan and a streamlining of the planning and permitting process. They also raised the issue of Goleta’s revenue-neutrality agreement with the county, at one point considering an alternative local sales tax measure that could have sunk Measure A, the countywide half-cent sales tax measure that was approved Tuesday to pay for transportation infrastructure.

Easton said he will work toward an open communication with Goleta residents.

“One thing I hope will happen is that we can have a dialogue that the public will see on the council, so that they know how decisions are made,” he said.

The arrival of Connell and Easton will mean the departure of Blois and Councilwoman Jonny Wallis, who did not seek re-election. Connell and Easton thanked both charter councilwomen for their service to the city.

The new City Council will have its first meeting Dec. 2.

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

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