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Goleta Council, Residents Urge County to Preserve Goleta Beach Park

After hearing public input, city officials vote to send a letter in support of protecting the 'crown jewel' and its existing facilities

Calling it a “crown jewel of the county,” Goleta residents and council members had some strong words for Santa Barbara County on Tuesday in favor of preserving Goleta Beach Park the way it is now.

The purpose of Tuesday night’s discussion before the Goleta City Council was to gather public input so that the council could formulate an opinion to pass on to the county, which has ultimate jurisdiction of the project. County officials are scheduled to meet later this month.

Goleta Beach is the most widely used park in the county, and erosion over time could threaten the grass portion of park, structures near the beach as well as the parking lots and utilities.

The county installed emergency rock revetments on the beach in 2002, but those permits from the California Coastal Commission have expired.

Removing the rocks has been a process referred to as “managed retreat,” which calls for the removal of 1,200 feet of the rocks, elimination of 107 parking spaces, and moving the bike path and utilities.

Before the hearing, Mayor Roger Aceves urged speakers to also make their comments known to the county at a public hearing planned for 5 p.m. July 23 at the Goleta Union School District offices, 401 N. Fairview Ave.

“It’s important that your voice be heard,” he said.

Planner Anne Wells ran through a brief history of the project.

In 2008, the county submitted an application to the California Coastal Commission to erect piles in the ocean to prevent the erosion, but the commission denied the project because of impacts on sand supply to down-coast beaches.

Under the managed retreat project in front of the county, the parking lots would be converted to “sandy beach,” she said.

Another alternative mentioned in the environmental impact report includes “geotextile core dunes” that would be installed to minimize erosion to lawn and infrastructure, but the parking lots would go under this option, Wells said.

A second alternative would test eco-friendly experimental shoreline protections over a 10-year period and would build on what works best, and would retain the revetment for 10 years.

The “environmentally superior alternative” mentioned in the document was the last one introduced by Wells, which would move the revetment to the west and would keep two western lots, but losing the parking lot closest to More Mesa.

The county will consider the final EIR and the project later this year.

Mayor Aceves asked about the timeline for moving from revetments to managed retreat.

“How did we go from the original plan to this managed retreat? It seems like it’s a huge jump,” he said.

Wells said it was a response to the commission recommendation, and that it was going from one extreme to another.

There was no love lost between Councilman Michael Bennett and the California Coastal Commission as he recounted a small but vocal minority of people who lobbied the commission to vote against the staff recommendation to install the permeable pile groins.

During public comment, all of the speakers said they wanted to preserve the park for public access and supported keeping the parking.

Speaker Loren McFarland said Goleta Beach is one of the limited access points for families to get to the ocean. 

“If it’s not really broke, don’t fix it,” he said. “The county has better places to spend it’s money. ... Maintain the existing park.”

Brian Trautwein of the Environmental Defense Center said the park is a treasured place, but that “some approaches would sacrifice the beach in order to protect the park.”

He said the EDC wants to “protect it all,” and it is still reviewing the alternatives, but wants the council to stress that the beach be protected as well as the park.

Councilwoman Paula Perotte asked how people would get to the beach without the parking lots.

“That comes to mind as a question,” she said. “That place is packed.”

Perotte said she takes her elderly mother-in-law there to enjoy the ocean while sitting on the grass.

“She doesn’t want to go in the sand,” she said.

Loss of the bike path, parking lots, utilities and even encroachment on Highway 217 and the airport were of concern to Aceves.

“When you talk about retreat, when does it stop?” he asked.

Bennett said two members of the Coastal Commission had a particularly “unnerving” response to the loss of parking and access for the public.

“They basically said, ‘Let them eat cake,’” he said. “They didn’t care.”

Councilman Ed Easton said he would support looking at alternative two that would weigh a variety of experimental options.

“I think that’s the beginning of an answer ... as we try to figure out what works,” he said.

The council voted 4-1, with Easton dissenting, to send a letter asking the county to support protection of the existing park facilities. The council also approved unanimously to recommend the second alternative that would look at several options to prevent beach erosion.

“Let’s look at all the alternatives to protect Goleta Beach,” Aceves said.

Councilman Jim Farr said he didn’t think the county was approaching the issue in the right way.

“This is the most populous park in the county. ... They should have started by saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do for the people,’” he said. Why the county would consider managed retreat “is beyond me.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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