Goleta’s next planning director — whomever that may be —will face quite a few challenges.

A consultant firm’s report of the Planning and Environmental Review Department found inconsistency over the years and the need for updated planning procedures. 

Since incorporating in 2002, Goleta leaders have pushed both slow-growth and pro-development planning priorities, and needs a zoning code of its own, the report said.

“Staff gears up to meet wishes that are prevalent that day and change when wishes change,” said Jane Campbell of Citygate Associates, the consultant firm, at Tuesday’s council meeting.

The report is meant as a guide, with recommendations and an action plan – and leaving room for the yet-to-be-hired next planning director, Campbell said.

Goleta doesn’t currently have a planning director, a finance director or a deputy city manager.

“Goleta has struggled to lay its basic foundational processes since incorporation, and that fact may contribute to the sense of confusion shared about roles and duties around the planning function, approval of projects, and adoption of environmental impact report documents,” the report said.

The department needs to link its strategic planning with its day-to-day operations, with more transparency to the public and the people going through the permit process, the firm concluded.

City Council members took no action Tuesday night, but said they wanted to move forward with some recommendations and didn’t want the report to just be stuck on a shelf.

The City Council was given the following strategic recommendations:

» Link the city’s Strategic Plan and day-to-day efforts of the PER Department to implement the General Plan.

» Establish professional development plans.

» Establish an electronic permit-tracking system with building records once the new zoning code is adopted.

» Improve communication with customers and community members by adding purpose, process and project update pages to the department website.

» Pursue customer service improvements that support economic vitality opportunities for local business expansion.

» Pursue customer service improvements that support Old Town vitality.

» Rebalance planning skill sets and position allocations in the department to improve organizational efficiency, enhance long-range environmental planning, and increase the effectiveness of the Old Town economic development program.

» Continue the process of clarifying the policy-setting roles and duties of the city attorney and City Council members relative to operational role of the department.

» Strengthen the development review committee.

Citygate held public meetings, and interviewed staff and stakeholders as part of the report process.

Consultants also met with each council member. 

“For some, preserving open space and providing parks and bike pathways are important future goals. For others, assuring that local employers can expand their businesses and operations within the city to continue a strong jobs base is extremely important,” the report said. 

The city is only 15 years old, and its planning department history can be divided into three periods, the report said.

Its first four years were characterized by preservation-oriented, slow-growth policies, with active review of projects and some procedures adopted from the county, including the zoning code, the report says.

The next seven years brought concerns of the complex review process for smaller projects, like residential remodels, and the Planning Commission was established.

“A priority was given by the City Council for city staff to move applications through the development review process, in response to complaints and concerns expressed by customers of the PER Department,” the report said.

Many projects stalled because of the recession, but came back in the last four years.

“At this time, the City Council was also interested in creating inroads to provide an improved jobs and housing balance within the city where the number of jobs available outpaced the number of housing units available,” the report said.

“Also during this period, the city sought to develop a zoning code that would conform to the city’s General Plan. As applications were being approved, environmental review processes completed, and entitlements given for the new housing, commercial retail, and hotel projects, community members expressed concern and disapproval for the volume of construction and development occurring on remaining parcels of undeveloped land in the city.

“Amidst the concerns was the increased traffic during morning and evening commute times at major intersections in the city.”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at gmagnoli@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Goleta Planning & Environmental Review Department Organizational Assessment Report