The Goleta cityhood dilemma is expected to come to a head Thursday afternoon, when the question of inclusion or exclusion of Isla Vista will be decided.
The Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) is expected to make its decision regarding the boundaries for the proposed city of Goleta at its meeting tomorrow evening, specifically whether or not to include Isla Vista within those boundaries. LAFCO held a public testimony downtown last Thursday, the last one before the committee’s vote this week, which will determine which boundaries are on the November ballot.
Third District County Supervisor and LAFCO commissioner Gail Marshall said opposition to the inclusion of I.V. might not be as strong as it has been portrayed.
“In my estimation, a very vocal minority is against the inclusion of I.V. in Goleta cityhood,” Marshall said. “A proposal including I.V. could win at the polls. I think there’s just been a lot of fear and loathing tactics used against I.V. and the students to try to keep I.V. out. Also, I thought it was really bad the way I.V. was characterized in the staff report because it contributed to those fears.”
A LAFCO staff report recommended excluding I.V. from the Goleta cityhood boundaries because of differences in “community identity” between I.V. and Goleta, which is a sufficient reason not to include I.V., according to LAFCO staff executive officer Bob Braitman.
“Many residents of the Goleta Valley perceive I.V. as a separate community, whether it really is or not. The sense that students are there implies a lot less permanent residents in the area,” Braitman said. “The theme we found in all the comments we received is that people were concerned that a transient population will be more inclined to vote for bond issues because they won’t be paying for those bonds in the future. In the final analysis, this concept of community identity is a strong one. However, both options are viable and legally supportable choices.”
LAFCO was presented with two options by its staff. Option 1, which excludes I.V. and UCSB, is very similar to the boundaries proposed by Goleta Now! – the group that originally brought the cityhood proposal to LAFCO. Option 2 would include I.V. and UCSB within the boundaries of the new city.
The I.V. Recreation and Parks District unanimously supported the inclusion of I.V. in the cityhood boundaries in a letter to LAFCO. IVRPD chairperson Pegeen Soutar said community identity should not be used as a criterion for exclusion.
“IVRPD strongly urges LAFCO to adhere to its statutes by approving Option 2,” she said during Thursday’s public comment. “The Goleta Valley is one community with several neighborhoods, not several different communities. Community identity should be a source of pride, but it should not be used to exclude I.V. and deny services. Option 2 is the only option that provides the additional services that both communities, Goleta and I.V., need.”
Goleta would have a 10-year surplus of $40.13 million if I.V. were to be included, and $7.05 million without it, according to a report presented to LAFCO by Santa Barbara County Administrators Office Representative Bill Schaitt,
“Option 1 leaves very little for enhanced or new services and facilities, and as we all know, there is constant pressure everywhere to increase services” he said. “I.V. is a very small community with a great numbers of individuals, which means that state subventions would be high and the cost for road maintenance fairly low.”
LAFCO may not be able to legally exclude I.V. under state law, Schaitt said.
“The Cortese-Knox Act does not allow LAFCO to create an unincorporated island. We recognize that under Option 1 the most densely populated area in the county will be left unincorporated, and that is not consistent with the Cortese-Knox Act,” he said. “It does create, for the county, an isolated and very dense service population – an island. Also, everyone traveling to and from UCSB and I.V. travels through Goleta to get where they want to go.”
Goleta Now! member Cynthia Brock said the inclusion of I.V. places unfair responsibility on the potential city of Goleta.
“The decades of neglect of I.V. by UCSB and the county should not be placed on the shoulders of the new city,” she said. “The needs for increased services in I.V. are huge, and the fiscal analysis is based only on current service levels. The university should take responsibility for the problems it has created.”
Howard Nickel, a resident of Goleta for 36 years, said he was concerned about the perceived student voting bloc forcing Goletans to pay for I.V.
“You can imagine what extravagant improvements I.V. would get, and the people here would be paying for those for years to come. Look at the voting blocs in I.V. and tell me if this wouldn’t happen,” Nickel said.
Mark Chaconas, Marshall’s executive assistant, said half of the I.V. community is made up of permanent residents and the voting bloc is not as strong as it seems to be.
“The alleged voting bloc can be discounted when you look at who actually turns out to vote. In the last presidential election, 16,000 voters turned out from the Goleta precincts, compared to only 9,800 from I.V. You can imagine how the student numbers would fall for any kind of local election,” he said.
The financial benefits Goleta would reap with I.V. should be given more weight, Chaconas said.
“From a fiscal standpoint, the numbers are far more compelling. The state provides subventions depending on population to new cities as a ‘jump start,’ ” he said. “I.V. brings a lot to the table, both financially and culturally.”
During the public comment, UCSB student and I.V. resident Rashmi Bachrach said I.V. should be part of the new city of Goleta because I.V. residents patronize the majority of Goleta businesses.
“It is because of I.V. that Goleta will be financially capable as a city. I.V. doesn’t have supermarkets or movie theatres,” she said. “We do all our shopping and spend our money in Goleta. Since we pay sales taxes in Goleta, we should be able to see the benefits of those through representation in the new city.”
UCSB has not come forward in the past two years to voice its position on the Goleta incorporation, according to LAFCO chairman Tim Campbell. Campbell said its silence has had a major effect on cityhood discussions.
“It’s been a major disappointment to us that UCSB has been so silent and unresponsive during this process. The UCSB administration has created an atmosphere of distrust in the Goleta community regarding I.V. and the university. They’re concerned they’re going to have to manage an undisciplined and unmanageable population,” Campbell said. “The heart of the debate over I.V. is not knowing what the university will do. They could help by addressing infrastructure issues such as housing and parking, but thus far, the silence from the university has been deafening. The chancellor and regents are resistant to being part of this dialogue, which is distressing because they really are such a big player in all this.”
The final vote on the Goleta cityhood boundaries is expected to take place at LAFCO’s meeting Thursday at 2 p.m. The boundaries approved by the commission will be placed on the November ballot.