Goleta residents got a chance to have their say in the city’s future last week, helping shape the city’s general plan by attending workshops hosted by the Goleta City Council.

The five workshops, held from Jan. 25-29, were designed to receive input from local residents about Goleta’s first-ever general plan. The city council listened to suggestions and comments from the public about the plan, which will serve as a guide for future city development over the next 20 years. The workshops focused on overall reaction to the current draft of the plan, the placement and density of future housing, improved transportation, maintaining open space and environmental quality and future business development in Goleta.

City councilmember Pat Dugan said close to 400 Goleta residents attended the workshops.

Goleta Mayor Jean Blois said housing development was the most controversial topic discussed at the workshops. Blois said Goleta has to meet the state-mandated Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA), a statewide program requiring the construction of more houses to accommodate California’s growing population.

The Santa Barbara County Association of Government (SBCAG) was responsible for allocating the number of housing units required within individual cities in the county. SBCAG mandated that Goleta build 2,388 units, some of which must be low-income housing, within the next 10 years. Currently, the draft general plan meets the mandate by zoning the vacant areas between Highway 101 and Hollister Avenue as a moderate- to high-density housing area. The draft’s plan would completely satisfy this requirement.

City councilmember Jack Hawxhurst said another option for housing is to develop Bishop Ranch, the largest tract of open land in Goleta, which is currently designated for agricultural use. Hawxhurst also said there are disadvantages to developing Bishop Ranch, because any housing built there would be forced to draw from city water supplies.

“Bishop Ranch sold its water rights years ago,” Hawxhurst said. “They don’t have water for the agriculture that they are zoned for.”

Barbara Massey, a Goleta resident, said she is opposed to changing the current zoning of Bishop Ranch to accommodate more housing.

“It would take away from any improvements to other areas [of the city],” she said. “No development would be possible because the water would go to Bishop Ranch.”

Massey said the Hollister Avenue area should be developed largely because there is better transportation available. Because development is more concentrated, she said, people would be able to walk to grocery stores, restaurants and cleaners. Hawxhurst also said, that because of the level of concentration, developing Hollister would result in less car use and more public transportation.

Urban McLellen, managing director of Bishop Ranch, said he favored the idea of using the 265-acre plot of land to meet the housing mandate for Goleta. He said a privately created plan for Bishop Ranch includes 24 acres of land for sports and recreation, 100 acres of preserved land, shopping centers and room for 1500 housing units, 30 percent of which would be low-income housing.

“We think [Bishop Ranch] should be put in the draft general plan and then analyzed, and let the community decide,” McLellen said.

Blois said some of the residents that attended the workshops said Goleta should simply refuse to build the 2,388 housing units required by the state.

Thomas Thornton, a 60-year Goleta resident and graduate of UCSB, said he is angered by the state’s demands to rezone.

“What’s the financial risk of telling the state to go to hell?” Thornton said.

Both Blois and Dugan said they did not want to speculate about the consequences of such a refusal.

Improved transportation was another major concern voiced at the workshops, Blois said. She said the options discussed included constructing three overpasses that would make old town Goleta – reaching south from Fairview Avenue to where Highway 217 meets Highway 101 – more accessible, and making improvements to the city’s bike paths. Blois said the preservation of Goleta’s open-space areas was another issue that sparked a good deal of discussion at the meetings.

Now that the workshops have come to a close, Dugan said, the city council faces the difficult task of reviewing all of the comments received throughout the series of workshops and deciding which suggestions to incorporate into the draft general plan.

Blois said she anticipates the proposed general plan will undergo revisions and be ready to be submitted for an Environmental Impact Report by May.