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Eastern Goleta Valley group asks county to hold public workshop on zoning, planning

Voice from Santa Barbara: Gary Earle

We're requesting that the Board of Supervisors place on its agenda, as soon as possible, a comprehensive policy and current issues workshop on the future of the eastern Goleta Valley.

The Coalition for Sensible Planning and eastern Goleta neighborhoods are requesting to follow the lead of the Montecito Planning Commission, which, this month, is addressing these important questions: What will Montecito look like in five to 10 years? And the other essential CEQA question: What are the cumulative impacts going to be of all the current development in Montecito at this time?

Residents of the eastern Goleta Valley have been asking, well in advance of the board's adopting the 3-Year Work Program for the Comprehensive Planning Division, that immediate attention be paid to several large in-fill parcels, most of which are zoned for agriculture and/or recreation, and none of which was a studied key site in the 1993 Goleta Community Plan.

Our planning commissioner is aware that we again are requesting the Planning Commission to hold a workshop on this subject, because we basically feel there is no baseline for adequate CEQA analysis of all environmental, social and economic impacts of potential development on these parcels in the 1993 Goleta Community Plan.

Since, for several months, the Planning Commission has indicated that the comprehensive planning "issues" in the eastern Goleta Valley required policy direction from the board, we have been enormously pleased by the responsiveness and encouragement we have received from Supervisors Susan Rose, Joe Centeno, Salud Carbajal and Brooks Firestone on this matter.

At the LAFCO hearings last month, Mr. Centeno expressed his intention to support Ms. Rose's efforts to secure the funding and resources to make such a workshop on the eastern Goleta Valley, including an update and future amendments to the Community Plan, a reality. This could include the potential formation of a county-appointed advisory committee specifically to study updating, and/or amending the Community Plan for the Goleta Valley Planning Area. We have been heartened by Mr. Centeno's statement at the LAFCO hearing that it is important for Goleta Valley residents to be "the architects of the future vision" for our area. Following comments by Mr. Centeno and Ms. Rose at the LAFCO hearings about the current important need for comprehensive planning policy direction for the Goleta Valley, Mr. Firestone added, "I support my fellow supervisors."

We appreciate and certainly welcome his support as well.

Please consider agendizing the eastern Goleta Valley Planning Area for a public workshop before the Board of Supervisors in the immediate future. At the very least, there would be a public forum at which the issues our neighborhoods feel are urgent for coherent, rational comprehensive planning. This forum for information gathering and analysis has been lacking -- some of us feel our due process rights concerning comprehensive planning in the unincorporated Goleta Valley have been severely compromised. It often is hard for residents in our urbanized area to believe that our concerns are either heard or understood by the board as a whole.

Therefore, we want and believe that such a general public workshop before the board could and would be extremely productive in furthering county goals for future planning and development on the entire unincorporated South Coast.

We have another request that we realize is more complex. Yes, we need a community plan update in the Goleta Planning Area and the Goleta Valley's citizens look forward to participating in that process.

But while that process is taking place, we have realistic fears regarding continued pressure toward rezoning agricultural parcels and dense upzoning of other parcels from developers before the Community Plan update is even discussed. Therefore, we would also request that your board adopt a zoning moratorium similar to that which was enacted for the Santa Ynez Valley on any rezoning in the Goleta Valley Planning area until an authorization of the Community Plan updating process is in place, and the Goleta Area Advisory Committee has an institutional voice to bring to the board from our neighborhoods.

An example of such pressure for very dense residential upzoning can be found regarding the Tatum property. This is a 22.86-acre parcel in the heart of the Goleta Valley that is owned by the Santa Barbara School District.

A feasibility study for the property is barely in the works, and county P&D and the county-cities joint affordable housing task force already are suggesting a density of 19 to 20 acres for the site. At 20 units per acre, that would equate to 457 units for the property. At three people per household, that makes for 1,371 residents in the development (a small city unto itself). Using five to 10 car trips per household, as indicated in the Institute of Traffic Engineers Manual, that means there would be between 2,285 and 4,570 average daily trips -- cars going and coming -- to and from a property that fronts on no major streets.

The same math can be applied to the MTD property, the Christmas tree farm, and the county campus property. These are properties in the eastern Goleta Valley that are also under consideration for rezoning.

If these kinds of traffic and circulation figures are suddenly imposed upon the residents of the Goleta Valley, there will be congestion and degradation of levels of service for transportation and access that will jeopardize public health and safety. Such unexamined, unanalyzed rezonings and upzonings will not be able to withstand CEQA analysis.

The county would be wise to devote some comprehensive planning time to this issue on the already almost "built out," urbanized unincorporated South Coast.

With the Public Works budget as constrained as it already is, the need for professional planning, critical analysis and public input, through the Community Plan and Community Plan EIR process, is critical. In fact, it would seem that an updated Community Plan for the Goleta Planning Area would be mandatory in order for the county's Land Use Element of the Comprehensive Plan to have any integrity or consistency under General Plan law.

No other area of the unincorporated South Coast is even remotely being subjected to proposals for such intense densification, with inadequate infrastructure to support such high-density development.

Further, we have heard that the Housing Element sub-committee has fortunately been able to meet our RHNA numbers without any upzones; that the county has gotten the state to agree to zero acres needed to be rezoned. This fact supports the ability to postpone any rezoning until such time as the Goleta Valley Community Plan update is under way, if not complete.

As citizens of the Goleta Valley have stated numerous times, we must find ways to avoid having the Goleta Valley become the San Fernando Valley. With your board's help in providing the resources, we request, first, a workshop to discuss fully the issues at stake and what's facing our area. Second, we need a Community Plan update for the unincorporated Goleta Planning area, with an EIR to elucidate the myriad impacts from increased density alone. Finally, by your board's initiating a temporary zoning moratorium in the eastern Goleta Valley, we would all be able to accomplish more, with better planning, in conjunction with neighboring jurisdictions and UCSB.

The development landscape is changing rapidly in our area. We can all work together well and productively. We can avoid the gridlock of Los Angeles and the alienation of fragmented communities. CSP is committed to these goals.

The author is president of the Coalition for Sensible Planning.