Monday, August 27, 2007

Goleta tweaks General Plan meeting schedule


The City of Goleta is counting down the days until it jumps into the first of several public workshops, where amendments to the city’s controversial General Plan will be the sole topic of discussion.
But before the first date could arrive, some jostling with the meeting schedule occurred yesterday at City Hall, where the City Council made a couple of changes.
The first change was made to the second of three General Plan public workshops that was scheduled for Sept. 22, which is the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur. This meeting will now take place on Sept. 27, while an additional workshop, scheduled for Oct. 17, was added to the list.

The council contemplated making an additional change to an Oct. 5 workshop that will focus on the General Plan’s housing element. This meeting, scheduled to take place on a Friday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., has spawned charges from some members of the public, as well as Councilman Roger Aceves and Councilwoman Jonny Wallis, that the time and date will automatically exclude people who have to work during those hours.
The council voted 3-2, with Aceves and Wallis dissenting, to keep the Oct. 5 meeting scheduled as is.
While the council and city staff have insisted that the General Plan amendment process will accommodate ample public input, some have claimed that the meeting schedule, and the manner in which pervious meetings have been held, don’t have the public in mind.
“It’s public process and the public’s got to be involved in the public process,” said Cecilia Brown, the county’s second district planning commissioner, who has been a vocal proponent for a more open process in Goleta politicking.
When told the council meeting yesterday was not broadcast on T.V., Brown said that this is one example of the council not being as open with the public as she believes they need to be.
“Again, that’s a missed opportunity,” Brown said. “The public should know what’s going on.”
Councilman Eric Onnen said the meeting was supposed to be broadcast, but the film crew couldn’t be located.
Brown commended the council for scheduling an additional workshop, but worried that few residents will be able to attend the Oct. 5 meeting.
“Are we doing this for the public? Who are we doing this for?” Brown asked yesterday during an interview with the Daily Sound. “The community needs to participate in this too and you can’t do this if people are working.”
Steve Chase, the city’s planning & environmental services director, said the Oct. 5 meeting was scheduled during the work day in order to accommodate Lynn Jacobs, director of California’s Department of Housing & Community Development, who will be in attendance.
Though Wallis said she’s not sure about the time frame of the Oct. 5 housing element meeting, she noted that overall she is pleased with staff’s effort thus far.
“I wanted that meeting to be particularly welcoming to the public, and on Friday, in the middle of the day, I’m not sure it does that,” Wallis said. “Other than that I’m pleased with the way staff has formatted the workshops.”
The General Plan’s housing element, which stipulates that 55 percent of most new housing in Goleta needs to be classified affordable, has been a hotbed of controversy since the General Plan’s approval last October.
To date, it has been sent to the state for review three times, and sent back to the city in each instance without a stamp of approval.
The majority of the council has made it clear since the General Election last November that they intended to make changes to the General Plan, with the affordable housing mandate at the top of the list.
Chase urged those critical of the process to keep in mind that the first set of meetings will likely lead to several more meetings -- all of which he said will be open to the public.
“I can appreciate the folks that feel emotional,” Chase said. “I have committed myself both to the public as well as the city council that we will do as many public workshops as prudent to get a firm understanding and grasp of the public’s interest in these issues.”
Onnen also emphasized the need for the public to keep in mind that the process is in its early stages.
“It’s just a start,” Onnen said. “The end point will be really when we think we understand and we’ve got the input to make a decision that represents the community.”
Chase said another topic sure to undergo lengthy discussion during the meetings are conservation standards.
One example Chase said he predicts will arise during the meetings are required setbacks for developments near creeks and designated wetland areas.
According to Chase, the current stipulation states that development near a wetland must be setback to the nearest “overhanging riparian vegetation.” One possible change could put a structure much closer to the wetland, near the creek channel -- a difference of 25 to 30-feet in some cases.
“That could make all the difference in the world as to whether or not a piece of property that today is vacant can be built on for a light industrial building in old town,” Chase said.
Though there is not a sure timeline on when General Plan amendments will be approved by the planning commission and the council, Chase said some of the less complex issues could be up from approval in the next couple months, while the more complex issues could go up for a vote as early as next Summer.
Onnen also didn’t put a strict timeline on the process, but said it will not take as long as the years-long process of drafting the original document.
“I don’t envision this process as being as detailed perhaps as the entire General Plan was,” Onnen said. “These are just some updates to the General Plan, not a complete redo of the General Plan.”
But no matter how much time it takes, Onnen said its in everyone’s best interest to keep the process open.
“We’ll just go through the process,” he said. “And if we’re faithful to it, we’ll have a very open and inclusive process and that’s what everybody wants.”

A list of the meetings, all of which will be held at city hall, is printed below:
Sept. 4, at 6 p.m., a sphere of influence discussion.
Sept. 15, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the first General Plan workshop.
Sept. 27, from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., the second General Plan workshop.
Oct. 5 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., General Plan housing element workshop.
Oct. 17 from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. the third General Plan workshop.


Anonymous said...

After all the noise Onnen and his cohort made about televising the city council meetings during his election campaign, his excuse about not broadcasting this one is lame, lame, LAME.

I am very disappointed with many of my neighbors for voting for these clowns and their out-of-town developer patrons. As this incident shows their whole campaign platform was a fraud.

Anonymous said...

Hmm. "Film crew couldn’t be located," because Council gave them Vegas tickets? Council can hide, but I think that residents are waking up to the real agenda and the possible effects of the proposed annihilation of regulations for special interests, despite the rhetoric.