November 26, 2014
Dear City Manager Greene and Planning Director Carman:
Since 1960, Citizens Planning Association (CPA) has been the voice for good planning in Santa Barbara County. When Goletans embarked on cityhood, our members participated. It was exciting to anticipate and work for expanded opportunities for resident participation in structuring where we live. We looked forward to increased access to our new city government. The heart and the brains of a city is its General Plan; through many meetings, CPA members worked hard for that essential expression of what the people want for their urban future.
Zoning, of course, is the implementing tool and we recognize the ever-present need for updating, fine-tuning the underlying structure. We were pleased that Goleta's new zoning work would be "a collaborative process to help realize the community's vision for the future." (New Zoning Ordinance Program Purpose) Our Goleta members looked forward to participating, to outreaching to the city as a whole, making the seemingly arcane understandable.
The reality - so far - is disappointing for three major reasons: First, lacking a local community newspaper, we depend on the city website to stay informed on what Goleta city government is doing. Even now, months later, there is little to nothing readily available on the city's website for the average interested resident to easily find about the NZO effort. Even more seriously, the public workshops were not televised; they were not held on weekends when more people could attend; and, apparently, whatever was said and whatever public comments there were are available only by going to city hall and asking to see a binder of pages!
Second, we understand that there are significant changes from the General Plan provisions. Access to information is limited to only when a person is physically in city hall. This eliminates access for most working people to learn about and study those changes. In addition, our members have reported that how the proposed changes differ from the present zoning strictures are mysteries: there is no side-by-side, line-by-line comparison, the usual way of presenting proposed ordinance changes.
Of special and serious concern is the proposed reduction of the role of the Planning Commission and the increased importance of the Zoning Administrator. Planning commissioners are non-governmental representatives of Goleta. Planning Commission meetings are about the only way that citizens can actively participate in how their city develops. To strip the PC of most of its authority to interpret our General Plan re modifications, variances, development standards and more is to distance Goleta residents even further from their government and from neighborhood decision-making. It's not what we intended in cityhood and it is not what we consider good municipal planning.
We hope that as the process proceeds there will be greater transparency with increased opportunities for public participation and that the duties of the Zoning Administrator will be scaled back to purely ministerial. Goleta should be a best case model for how to examine and improve its zoning. Goletans deserve no less.
Mary Ellen Brooks,
Acting president, CPA