Before a large, standing-room only crowd late Monday night, the Goleta City Council decided to postpone its decision on a proposal that could protect hundreds of acres of the Ellwood coast.

Instead, the council decided to schedule public comment meetings and public workshops to gauge community opinion. They said the postponement would allow the new city time to work in cooperation with UCSB and the county to set a time frame for drafting a final proposal and prepare an environmental impact report.

Council members haggled over the joint proposal for the Ellwood-Devereux coast during the meeting that lasted over three hours. The proposal recommends moving housing sites – which are owned by private developer Bob Comstock and the university – to preserve environmentally sensitive areas on the Ellwood bluffs, including the well-known monarch butterfly groves.

Under the proposed land swap, the city of Goleta could give Comstock housing areas in Santa Barbara Shores Park in exchange for a bluff-top meadow in the Ellwood area. The university would construct faculty and student housing around the Ocean Meadows Golf Course.

Comstock had said he wanted tax credits to offset his investment, but at Monday night’s meeting, he withdrew that request. The council then decided to postpone an attempt to acquire the monarch butterfly groves for permanent open space with the Trust for Public Lands.

During the public comment period, which lasted about two and a half hours, community members in support of the proposal criticized the potential loss of the monarch butterfly groves, and said they would prefer the natural resources and recreational opportunities on the Ellwood coast be preserved.

Martha Bell, an Ellwood-Devereux resident, said she supported the land swap because the loss of the butterfly groves would make her son accustomed to computer games again, as he would lose his fascination with the monarch butterflies of the region.

Goleta resident Dan Gira urged council members to take their time on the decision and to think of the hikers.

“The Ellwood area is the crown jewel of our planned hiking system on the coast of Santa Barbara County. … New coastal hiking trails are almost impossible to obtain. The public will never get an opportunity for protecting and expanding coastal recreation like this again,” he said.

Other community members argued the proposed land swap is a crisis of affordable housing, which some said makes it difficult to attract new and talented professors to UCSB. Proponents also said allowing development on the bluffs would cause Goleta to lose independence and would show them deferring to UCSB.

Everett Kirkelie, the associate vice chancellor of Administration and Auxiliary Services at UCSB, said he is looking forward to a positive relationship between UCSB and the Goleta community.

“I think that if you read the proposal carefully our commitment is very genuine and very real. We are proposing to dedicate an awful lot of land as park for the community of Goleta and the university,” he said.

The Goleta City Council will hold their next meeting on Monday, May 20, at 6 p.m. in the Goleta Union School District boardroom at 401 Fairview Ave.