After five years of loud wrangling during countless public meetings, the controversial project to plot out the future of the Eastern Goleta Valley for the next 20 years sailed through the Board of Supervisors hearing on Tuesday with relative ease, as the supervisors praised the process and the nearly 30 citizens who spoke before unanimously voting to begin an environmental review of the community plan.
“Whatever we call ourselves, we’re bigger than a name,” said 2nd District Supervisor Janet Wolf, in reference to the slightly pejorative nickname Noleta, someone’s suggested “West Santa Barbara,” and the clunky Eastern Goleta Valley. “We are community who cares….In the end, we are a stronger community because of this process.”
The decision included just two changes to what the Planning Commission had previously approved: first, it put back the prior plan’s rule that any proposed conversion of agricultural land must meet certain requirements for approval; and two, in response to a heavy-handed letter from the state’s housing department last week, the plan reconfigured the proposed residential layout for the MTD and Tatum properties, increasing each by just one unit but hopefully assuaging the state’s concerns about mandated high density zoning.
It was a welcome decision for community activist Barb Kloos, who was surprised to find herself advocating for zoning that would eventually bring about 650 new units to the area but argued that the plan represented a true and vast compromise. “While nobody got everything they wanted,” said Kloos, who had formed the Eastern Goleta Valley Coalition to fight for her cause, “every legitimate stakeholder is getting something that benefits them.”
Kloos and many others feared that, in response to the state’s letter, the county would drastically increase zoning on the MTD and Tatum properties or, worse, open up San Marcos Growers property to possible development. But county planning head Glenn Russell and his staff did not see the need for that, instead rezoning the two bigger properties in a way that seemed to address the state’s concerns. “It was a technicality, but an important one,” said Russell. “We hope it will satisfy them.”
As to the state insisting that these rezonings happen by July 2012 — instead of the usual pace that wouldn’t have them implemented until at least 2014 — Russell explained, “Our position is that we are moving forward, making substantial progress, and are in substantial compliance with the policies of our approved housing element.”
Despite all of the congratulations, there were some clear losers to Tuesday’s decision, including affordable housing advocates who pushed for more and denser development and the Towbes Group, which has been seeking to develop the San Marcos Growers property for years. Also feeling the short end of the stick were urban farmers, who were hoping for special zoning that would allow them to make more money off of their properties, and the super slow-growthers, who felt that the proposed rezonings are still too much to handle. But faced with a mandate from the state to accept a certain level of housing over the next 20 years, the county’s hands seemed rather tied in that regard.
Terri Ortega, who like Kloos became involved with the process when she feared that more rezonings were on the way, may have described the experience best. “When you’re involved in the process, there is a balance,” she said. “You can either get involved or keep saying, ‘Don’t do anything.’”