Goleta City Councilman Stuart Kasdin, speaking Wednesday night during the Learn, Empower, Advocate, and Discuss (LEAD) program.
Goleta City Councilman Stuart Kasdin, speaking Wednesday night during the Learn, Empower, Advocate, and Discuss (LEAD) program at City Hall, says he got involved in government because of overdevelopment on Hollister Avenue. ( Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

In an attempt to boost community engagement, the city of Goleta Wednesday night held a community academy to teach members of the public about the Goodland and how its government works. 

About 30 people attended the Learn, Empower, Advocate, and Discuss (LEAD) program at Goleta City Hall.

It’s part of a six-week program in which the participants, including a handful of high school and college students, will graduate and receive a certificate at the end. 

City Manager Michelle Greene and City Clerk Deborah Lopez gave presentations, but the five members of the Goleta City Council took up a majority of Wednesday’s meeting.

They spoke individually about themselves, how they got into government, and their goals for the future.

Councilman Roger Aceves, a former homicide detective and hostage negotiator for the Santa Barbara Police Department, told the story of how when he first ran for Goleta City Council, he came in fourth, in a contest with only three openings. He was 86 votes behind on Election Night.

Within three weeks, after the absentee ballots were counted, he ended up winning third place by 25 votes. 

“I thought I was done,” Aceves said. “So here it is, my 14th year, and I enjoy every single day. I am very proud of the work the city does. What I am most proud of . . . as of this point, I have never missed a City Council meeting in 13 years. I have never missed one.”

Aceves encouraged the members of the audience to run for council and get involved with their city. He said he would like to see more diversity on the council once it switches to district elections in 2022. 

“My hope is that we would get more Mexicans to run,” Aceves said. “Up until this point, I am the only Mexican who has ever been elected to the City Council ever. We need to have better representation up on the dais.”

Councilman Stuart Kasdin explained that he decided to run for City Council because of his opposition to the Hollister Village development.

Longtime Goleta City Councilman Roger Aceves.

Longtime Goleta City Councilman Roger Aceves is proud of the fact he has never missed a council meeting in 13 years. He encourages more people to run for City Council. ( Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

He said the housing and commercial development blocked the mountain views and installed a traffic signal that instantly generated more “traffic stagnation.” He said the development did not fit with the values of the community, and he thought the city could do better. 

“When it comes down to it for me, when we add businesses, when we make the changes that we do, is it in the service of the community, is it in the service of the population,” Kasdin said. “Does it make the community a better place to live in?”

Academy participant Lillian Simmons said she has lived in Goleta for nine years

“I signed up for this because I am just really curious about how city government works,” Simmons said. “This seems like an amazing insight to be able to do this.”

Participant Danny Azar, who works at App Folio, said he moved to Goleta five months ago because his wife is the new store director at Target.

“I hope to learn the ins-and-outs of local city government,” Azar said. 

The event lasted about two hours. Future sessions will focus on a variety of topics, including parks & recreation, the library, public works, planning, the Police Department and preparing for emergencies. 

City Manager Greene said Goleta is a community that likes to show its pride through actions. 

“I love Goleta because of the people,” Greene said. “Everyone is so down-to-Earth and caring. I really feel like I can go anywhere in this town, and I can find people who are like-minded who want to see positive impacts on the community and care about one another.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.