Planning for Goleta Valley needs real community input


Voice of Peter Sturken

The author is a member of the board for the Coalition for Sensible Planning.

In her Feb. 13 News-Press commentary, "Rose defends her controversial Neighborhood Council," Supervisor Susan Rose again sadly demonstrates the lack of vision and astute leadership skills necessary to garner meaningful citizen input on planning and zoning issues for her 2nd District constituents.

Rather than reaching out to all citizens seeking dialogue, our supervisor and some county staff currently continue to lash out at Goleta Valley residents who are unwilling to fall in line to support the unplanned and unmanaged growth juggernaut of developers, bureaucrats and special interests.

The Coalition for Sensible Planning seeks to improve the level of discourse in Santa Barbara County on all the issues, especially concerning the public processes, accessibility to decision makers, comprehensive land-use planning, rezoning of urban agricultural land, and the multiple housing issues and policies facing our county.

Some county officials refuse to recognize the validity of all citizens' voices to advocate for processes and policies of good, fiscally sound government, sensible zoning and good comprehensive planning in the unincorporated portion of the South Coast between Goleta and Santa Barbara. Many of us see the irretrievable loss of urban agricultural lands and open space as a significant threat of reckless zoning.

Many well-meaning residents also fear they're being characterized as contentious, close-minded, ignorant and biased by a current campaign of the Housing and Community Development Department to expand the rhetoric of a "housing crisis" through a costly public relations effort and marketing campaign being funded by the county at this time.

Why would Ms. Rose and county officials resort to this strategy? The Goleta Valley -- in fact, the entire Goleta Planning Area -- is of a particular focus to development interests bent on rezoning the little available vacant land left for high-density housing or other intense land uses, like commercial development.

Also, the Goleta Planning Area contains valuable county-owned land north of Cathedral Oaks, in the foothills, for which there are plans on the table to build 152 housing units. These units, it seems, would not have to follow the county's own zoning ordinances, might not be subject to CEQA environmental analysis, and many would not be considered "affordable" under California state guidelines for affordability. Seventy-six of the units would be developed for owners earning 200 percent of the area median income, or $129,400. The state's regulations for affordable housing include a targeted population which earns 0-50 percent, 51-80 percent and 80-120 percent of our county's AMI, which is $64,700.

Is the rhetoric of social equity and affordable housing being distorted by the county's marketing campaign to mask what's really going on: development of high-density, subsidized "penthouse" housing in the foothills for upper-middle class buyers, who will be enabled to buy $1 million homes for $344,000? This isn't the population the county should be seeking to serve with its affordable housing program. This is the reckless growth juggernaut.

In an effort to marginalize her opponents in the housing debate, Ms. Rose has tried to label the Coalition for Sensible Planning as an "avowed anti-affordable housing group."

Nothing could be further from the truth.

In numerous articles and public presentations, CSP has stated it supports subsidized rental housing for the county's most needy citizens. CSP has consistently and emphatically reiterated this position, furthering a truly progressive philosophy, which represents planning for the social welfare -- and affordable housing needs -- of our county's special-needs, very-low and low-income populations.

Instead of listening to neighborhood concerns, as the elected representative of 2nd District constituents, Ms. Rose, as well as other county officials, have lowered themselves to name calling in an effort to intimidate the public into a malleable and gullible silence. It's ironic. Many of us voted for Ms. Rose in previous elections when she expressed concern about reckless growth and its consequences on infrastructure, as well as support for neighborhood standards and integrity. She then also supported fiscally responsible and responsive government.

Rather than having full, open community debate involving all Goleta Valley residents regarding the rezoning of parcels for high-density development, or site selection for housing and affordable housing developments, Ms. Rose, and the county's HCD continue to hide behind the discussions of a small group of special interest representatives, officials of banks and development companies, various chambers of commerce and nonelected neighborhood association members as being true community input.

While other supervisors are working hard to preserve the character of the urbanized neighborhoods and rural areas of their districts by facilitating the creation or update of community plans for their constituents, Ms. Rose pays only lip service to a new plan for the Goleta Planning Area. She states that she is "committed to updating the Goleta Community Plan," but has not put an ounce of political muscle behind getting the Goleta Community Plan into P&D's work program, or the budget, and making it happen.

Instead she says, "The timing and scope of such an update will be up to the full Board of Supervisors."

But, what kind of representation and advocacy for her constituents is that?

Ms. Rose further says ". . . the Housing Element update should not be held hostage to a future community plan update."

Yet, in recent public meetings, Supervisor Joni Gray has commented that the county "has no housing policy."

Planning Commissioner Parker Montgomery voiced concern on Feb. 9 that the county's planning commissioners "do no planning."

These assessments by decision makers indicate and reinforce the jeopardy residents feel concerning the future of the Goleta Planning Area. Why? The County Planning Commission very soon -- in April -- will choose several land parcels and sites to rezone and upzone (for later development) in the Goleta Valley. The Planning and Development Department is currently making recommendations for rezones in the Goleta Planning Area; the Housing and Community Development Department has a scheduled hearing at the Board of Supervisors on April 5 to actively pursue financing options for the development of the Cathedral Oaks county property. Of 152 for-sale units, only 32 of these homes fall under the state guidelines called affordable.

The Goleta Planning Area has severe limitations as a functional plan after the incorporation of Goleta. This is a serious matter as it is the community plan that puts forth the vision for a specific community's future and reflects the voice of its residents. It also protects urbanized neighborhoods from the capricious growth policies of often-reckless development interests.

Given the state of chaos, confusion, and deficiency in Santa Barbara County's planning and housing policies and programs, why should the state of California be in a hurry to certify the county's 2004 Housing Element? Shouldn't we take the time and make the effort to plan properly to guarantee that rural and suburban Santa Barbara County will not become urban Los Angeles? Regardless of the endless pressures from development interests to increase density and alter the character of our communities, shouldn't we do all that is possible to preserve beautiful Santa Barbara County as one of California's last livable areas? Isn't it also important to plan for the integrity and livability of the South Coast Housing Market Area on the narrow coastal plain lying between The Rincon and Gaviota?

I challenge all 2nd District citizens to become active in the debate over the future of the Goleta Valley. In that spirit, the Coalition for Sensible Planning will host an opportunity for full 2nd District community input into planning issues facing the Goleta Planning Area, which has not been afforded us by our elected supervisor. This event's time and place will be announced. Find additional information at or e-mail us at

Soon we will have an opportunity to talk and develop new ideas -- for consideration by County government -- of sound comprehensive planning for the Goleta Planning Area and the South Coast Housing Market.