Freshmen entering UCSB for the 2002-2003 school year will be the first class for whom the phrase “city of Goleta” will sound neither new nor unfamiliar.

Only since Feb. 1 did the area surrounding UCSB and Isla Vista transform from mere unincorporated Santa Barbara County territory into a full-fledged city. Voters passed Measure H, the culmination of 20 years of attempts to create the city of Goleta, in the elections of November 2001. And as the city sees its first birthday approaching in the distance, local politicians evaluate the state of the city and envision its potential obstacles and opportunities in the months ahead.

Margaret Connell, the first mayor of Goleta, said the first few months of her administration have focused on organizing a government at the local level.

“Part of our accomplishments is getting the city organized. It’s a lot of organizational stuff, and that’s important,” Connell said. “We just hired a city manager, Fred Stouder, and he’s been working since August.”

Stouder is the first employee hired by the city. Connell said the next appointments would likely be a city planning director, an environmental resource director and a consultant for a general plan for the city. The general plan is one of Connell’s main goals for the following year.

“It’s a blueprint for the city for the next five to 10 years,” she said. “With it, we can address situations like housing, traffic circulation, noise, air quality and open space.”

City councilman Jack Hawxhurst said he agreed that Goleta’s infancy has been a period for organization and that the general plan is vital for the city’s future.

“It’s a very special time. We just gained local control and the ability to make our own choices. The general plan is a chance to make a vision for where we’re going. We can start stamping out the future from there,” he said. “In the next few months, the focus is going to be the plan.”

William Gilbert – who ran for Goleta city council and opposed Measure H because he felt the city boundaries should have included I.V. in order to bolster the city’s financial feasibility – said a general plan would address Goleta’s financial situation.

“Unfortunately, it’s a case of ‘I told you so,'” he said, referring to his support of a report released by the California Economic Forecast Project that claimed the proposed city of Goleta could face a decade of deficits.

Gilbert said the city council must acknowledge other problems, such as cutting of public services and lack of residential space.

“The problem has mostly been the finances and cutting public services. The police dept. is not filling some officer positions because of finances,” he said. “And Goleta took most of the commercial space and left most of the residential space outside of the city. That would have to change. A lot of the commercial area would have to be converted.”

David Bearman, another defeated city counsel candidate, also opposed Measure H’s restrictive boundaries. He said the city’s financial woes would be smaller under a more inclusive city boundary.

“I thought the city of Goleta should have included the entire Goleta Valley and Isla Vista, too. And I think they’re already seeing potential financial problems,” he said. “They’ve done a lot of the initial housekeeping, and now they’re concentrating on land use planning, it seems.”

Bearman said the city council will probably be very active in the following year, trying to attend to issues that will arise as the city government settles into place.

“I think these folks will be very busy. They’ll be working very hard against some very tough odds,” he said. “I think more and more conflicts will arise in the city, too, like the one between people who want more affordable housing and people who don’t want anything built. Factions will emerge.”

In the next year, Connell hopes to address the debates surrounding both Ellwood shores and Highway 217.

“Protecting the bluffs between I.V. and Ellwood shores as open space is something we’ve been working on with the county and UCSB since cityhood [was established]. We need to move housing away from the shores area,” she said. “The proposal to install traffic lights on 217, in an effort to open up old town Goleta, was objected to very strongly by the university, so a whole new plan is being developed. We don’t have the perfect solution, but we’re working on it.”

Hawxhurst said projects like Ellwood would not be completely resolved in the near future.

“It’s not going to go away in the next year,” he said.