Friday, April 10, 2009

Bacara Scoping Hearing Draws Public Criticism

Foes of Haskell's Beach project express concerns over extent of required General Plan policy changes

Voicing concern over what one speaker called a “total reversal to the usual, acceptable planning process,” members of the public met with Goleta officials to air their grievances about policies involving Bacara Resort & Spa’s latest project. The hotel would like to see 55 condominiums along Haskell’s Beach, and a scoping hearing was held Thursday evening in council chambers to gather public input on the policy changes the project would require. The purpose of the hearing was not to discuss the project, but the guidelines governing it. Because the proposal would require 12 General Plan amendments, the city is collecting public comment and will be shaping a scope of services for an environmental impact report work to be undertaken.

That scope of services report will be brought before the City Council, which will decide whether to initiate a contract to prepare the EIR, said Steve Chase, planning and environmental services director. Goleta is also in draft stages with a concurrent EIR for the city’s track-three General Plan amendments, and a final version will be ready in a couple of months.

Connie Hannah, representing the League of Women Voters, took issue with the Bacara project requesting amendments while final environmental review for the track-three amendments remained to be seen.

“The project should not even be considered until the track-three amendments have been properly analyzed,” said Hannah, who added that the changes would not be project specific and would apply citywide.

Hannah also said the buildings would interfere with the public’s use of Haskell’s Beach.

Michael Lunsford of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy took issue with a large resort requesting changes to city policy.

“The question is, ‘Would this kind of treatment be given to me or any other homeowner in the city of Goleta?’” he asked. “It’s been my experience that you don’t get past the planning desk until you’re consistent. And yet, in this case, we have a massive change.

“I’m afraid that what you’re doing is setting yourself up for a constitutional issue of equal treatment,” he said. “The rooms that are being anticipated are larger than my remodeled house. I suspect that is consistent with most people who live in Goleta.”

Brian Trautwein, speaking for the Environmental Defense Center, discussed the location’s environmentally sensitive habitat areas, or ESHAs. The General Plan designates that the area where the condos would be built is such a habitat, but efforts are under way to change that designation, he said.

“That’s significant, because under the Coastal Act, you can’t build on an environmentally sensitive habitat area,” he said, adding that even if the city were to change the ESHA in the General Plan, the Coastal Act has jurisdiction over this project.

Meanwhile, one speaker drew attention to the presence of prehistoric Chumash archaeological sites. Frank Arredondo described himself as one of about eight people who can trace their genealogy to prehistoric Chumash, and he challenged the city to conduct consultations with the tribe.

“This project is very important to me,” he said.

Arredondo said he’s placed calls to Bacara, saying he was an interested Native American party, but that he has yet to receive a response.

Members of the public who missed the scope hearing may submit written comments to City Hall until 5:30 p.m. April 16.

Once staff has analyzed the environmental report, Chase said the city would bring that document through the Planning Commission process to the council.

“I don’t want to prejudge that outcome,” he said. Public hearings before the council and planning commission will help determine the adequacy of that document, and also whether the General Plan will require modification.

“We get the whole issue of cart before the horse,” he said. “And we struggle with that ourselves. But this is a public planning process and we have an obligation, under due process, to guide it carefully and judiciously.”

— Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at

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