The City of Santa Barbara may soon be expanding its borders to welcome some new residents that currently do not have a city to call their own.

Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum said the Santa Barbara City Council heard a presentation at its meeting Tuesday afternoon from denizens of eastern Goleta, an unincorporated area that is not technically part of any city, asking the council to aid them in becoming incorporated into the city’s sphere of influence, which would be the first phase before annexation as an official part of the city. Bob Braitman, executive officer for the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) – which is in charge of regulating and creating the boundaries of city governments throughout California – said the city council members at the meeting were receptive to the presentation, and voted to discuss the issue again after LAFCO completes a report on government services and agencies in the area.

Tuesday’s discussion was the first phase in an ongoing incorporation process, Blum said, which could ultimately result in the inclusion of thousands of currently unincorporated residents into the infrastructure of the city of Santa Barbara.

“When Goleta became a city three years ago, they left out about 30,000 people,” Blum said. “[Today,] the city of Santa Barbara is receiving petitions from about 4,000 people saying they’d like to be under our sphere of influence, which is the first step toward annexation.”

Braitman said including eastern Goleta in Santa Barbara’s sphere of influence would allow unincorporated areas outside Santa Barbara city limits to take advantage of some city services and give Santa Barbara jurisdiction over land use in the region, but he said the effects of incorporation are relatively minor if it is not followed by annexation into the city itself.

“Just being in the sphere doesn’t give the city jurisdiction for fire protection or law enforcement,” Braitman said. “It’s only important for land use purposes. When Goleta was previously in the city’s sphere, nobody acted like it was. So, the question is, what meaning does the sphere have if nobody respects it?”

However, Braitman said, incorporation into the city’s sphere does not necessarily guarantee annexation as an official part of the city – something he said LAFCO may not be comfortable with.

“The sphere of influence is being engaged, and annexing is married,” he said. “You don’t want to be engaged forever without being married.”

Braitman said the presentation at the city council meeting was made by the Committee for One, a 20-year-old group trying to unite Goleta and Santa Barbara into one city, and the West Santa Barbara Committee, which supports eastern Goleta’s inclusion as a part of Santa Barbara instead of the City of Goleta.

Council member Roger Horton said the groups coming before the council requested incorporation because of the city’s structure and services.

“They have a very strong opinion that they want to be incorporated in Santa Barbara,” Horton said. “Probably because they like our policies and practices in the city, and feel generally they would prefer to live within our system.”

Horton said he feels that the incorporation request was the most important and controversial item on the meeting’s agenda.

“A lot of people live in unincorporated areas, and some of them feel quite strongly about wanting to be left alone or incorporated,” Horton said.

Blum said that despite the difficulties and increased costs incorporation would incur, she is in favor of it.

“It costs us with roads and services,” Blum said. “But it’s just like any other part of the city. If they want to be part of the city, we should start that ball rolling. If people want to be part of the city and they are right next to us, I think we should be fine with it.”

Braitman said LAFCO is currently compiling a report, called a Municipal Service Review, on the efficiency of government services in the area, and will likely decide whether or not to expand Santa Barbara’s sphere of influence after the issue is brought back before the council.

“I don’t know yet whether it will be approved,” Braitman said. “It’s a possibility.”