Local business leaders were given the chance Thursday to listen to the lawmakers who represent them during a dialogue addressing hot-button regional issues.
A sizable audience gathered at Bacara Resort & Spa for the third annual Legislative Summit, hosted by the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Bacara, MarBorg Industries, Venoco Inc. and others.
The panel of legislators featured Goleta Mayor Roger Aceves, Santa Barbara City Councilman Frank Hotchkiss, Santa Barbara County CEO Chandra Wallar, Assemblyman Das Williams and state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.
Each was allowed three minutes to introduce him or herself before moderator Keith Woods jumped right into the hot-button issues, including Goleta Beach 2.0, the dissolution of redevelopment agencies, revenue neutrality and overall economic development.
Aceves started off the discussion by questioning why the county would suggest such an aggressive plan to manage erosion at Goleta Beach Park, which could negatively affect the number of visitors who can use the county’s most popular park if a rock revetment is removed and some parking is eliminated under a new proposal called Goleta Beach 2.0.
“It’s our beach,” Aceves said, noting the public’s concern with the plan as heard at the last Goleta City Council meeting. “The county should’ve gone back and said, ‘Hey, let’s relook at this now.’”
Wallar urged all stakeholders to attend next Tuesday’s county hearing on the controversial topic.
“I think it’s really important to dispel the fact that the beach is going away,” she said, adding that the county is only following recommendations from the California Coastal Commission.
Jackson reminded listeners that the commission exists to protect the coastline.
Panelists next debated whether the elimination of redevelopment agencies was a wise state decision, one mostly supported by Williams and Jackson.
Aceves said the City of Goleta is experiencing an unintended consequence of that decision, since the state has told the city it must pay back nearly $18 million in RDA money allocated for the San Jose Creek project.
The city is behind more than 100 other jurisdictions that have filed lawsuits against the state regarding funding for redevelopment projects.
“The $18 million is already in the hole,” Aceves said.
Hotchkiss said he was surprised by how quickly the agencies dissolved, and was grateful that Williams and, later, Jackson helped Santa Barbara retain downtown parking lots that were funded through the city’s RDA.
The conversation transitioned into ways to stimulate the economy, a concern of many business owners.
An influx of cruise ships has helped Santa Barbara, which is also working to simplify its business permit process, Hotchkiss said.
Jackson said government officials should partner with businesses and work to better accommodate local entrepreneurs.
“The role is to provide incentives,” she said.
Aceves said Goleta is hopeful for open, honest negotiations to change the revenue-neutrality agreement the city has with the county, which collects a large portion of Goleta’s property and sales taxes. The city has paid $75 million to the county since 2002, he added.
Wallar agreed, saying that “good faith” discussions would take place in the coming weeks.
Before the 90-minute panel ended and guests adjourned to a wine and cheese reception, legislators emphasized the need for collaboration from the local level all the way up to Sacramento.