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Goleta City Council Wades Through General Plan Amendments

Residents voice their concerns about rule changes for wetlands and other environmentally sensitive habitat areas

The General Plan was once again on the minds of members of the Goleta City Council on Tuesday as they took up proposed amendments to the city’s development document.

On the table were the “Track 3” amendments, proposed revisions that required substantive environmental review. Policies dealing with wetlands, growth management stream- and creekside buffers and other environmentally sensitive habitat areas (ESHAS) were of particular concern on Tuesday.

The council wasn’t able to wade through all of the proposed amendments Tuesday, as time ran out before it could deal with what promises to be a hefty discussion on streams, creeks, wetlands and their definitions and protections. However, the council did hear from several members of the public, many of whom turned out to protest the proposed increased flexibility in the rules surrounding Goleta’s wetlands and waters.

“Many biological processes happen in the buffers,” Dr. Mark Holmgren said in reference to a “one-size-fits-all” rule to be applied to the protection zone around the streams and creeks in the city, a proposed 100-foot guideline that may be taken down to 50 or 25 feet depending on the circumstances. Goleta’s terrain is made up of several major creeks and their tributaries that flow to the Goleta Slough in the Santa Barbara Airport/Goleta Beach area, as well as the Devereux Slough near Ellwood on the city’s westside, prompting concern from local ecological scientists and environmentalists.

“Watershed planning should be comprehensive, analytical and citizen-based,” said Eddie Harris, president of the Santa Barbara Urban Creeks Council, who also called the amendment process “arbitrary and developer driven.”

At least one local developer was none too pleased with the city’s process either. Richard Monk, representing Bacara Resort & Spa, took issue with what might become the city’s method of defining an ESHA, given the resort’s efforts to build high-end condominiums on its coastal property as part of its “Completion Phase Project.”

“The council should not be afraid of science or facts,” said Monk, who protested the staff’s recommendations on amendments regarding ESHAs, some of which have been left to the same standards proposed by the original 2006 General Plan. Those were written by the inaugural council/planning agency before a slew of about 200 amendments were proposed by staff, residents and the development and business community. Other ESHA policies were added to or slightly changed by the staff.

According to Monk, the proposed definitions and rules regarding ESHAs would “effectively declare Bacara’s entire valley floor to be ESHA,” thus hampering — if not defeating — the luxury hotel’s ongoing condominium project.

For some with an interest in Old Town Goleta, the most intensely developed part of the city, there was concern that the lack of flexibility with the rules regarding streams and their buffers would keep property owners from being able to profit from their creekside properties.

“I think these buffers need to stop where there’s existing development,” said Micheal Pullard, adding that the creeks in the area already had been altered from their original natural states.

As for development issues, the prohibition on more “big-box” stores — major retailers such as those found at the Camino Real Marketplace — continues to be in effect in the city. However, the council has voted out the existing Goleta Growth Management Ordinance, a policy designed to pace nonresidential growth with jobs by breaking development into phases, a program that has been found by staff and some local developers not to work as intended.

On Nov. 17, the City Council will take up the rest of the Track 3 amendments, which will focus on streams and creeks, wetlands, trees and stormwater management. Public comment is welcome.

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

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