The Nipomo Incorporation Committee for Eduction (NICE) held its quarterly public information meeting on May 3, 2008, with Jonny Wallis, a sitting Goleta City Councilwoman as the guest speaker. There were were 26 local citizens who attended the meeting, including our 4th District Supervisor, Katcho Achadjian, and NCSD board members, Mike Winn, Cliff Trotter, and Jim Harrison. Also attending with Jonny Wallis was Kitty Bednar from Goleta. If you missed the meeting, I will provide a synopsis of my notes below. We want to thank Jonny Wallis and Kitty Bednar for making the long trek to Nipomo and for sharing with us their insights on Goleta’s incorporation journey and some insights we can use here in Nipomo. We would also like to thank the Black Lake Management Association for the use of their community room at Black Lake. Jonny Wallis began her comments pointing out how important it was that our 4th District Supervisor, Katcho Achadjian was present, and that an added bonus was Katcho’s support of the Nipomo Incorporation movement. She encouraged Nipomo residents to continue this good and critical relationship with Katcho, as he will be able to unlock doors of information and encourage the county’s cooperation with us as we move along through the process.
Jonny believes in cityhood, and it clearly shows from her passion as she speaks. There is nothing like local control. There is nothing like going to your own local city council representative and congratulating them on a job well done, or asking what they were thinking on a particular issue, or being able to express your local concerns to your local elected representative. There is nothing like the more intimate political setting as a locally elected city council for local problem solving.
The most recent successful incorporation drive in Goleta started with a small but concerned of local Goleta citizens. They began meeting, and speaking with other local citizens. They organized into an organization with a catchy and significant title of GoletaNow! They burned this slogan into the public conscience. Everyone in the Goleta area knew exactly who GoletaNow! was and what they stood for.
Why did this most recent Goleta incorporation drive succeed while previous others failed? Jonny, listed several reasons. They succeeded this time, because of prior failures. They learned to cull out the past failures and concentrate on the positives. They were incredibly well organized, they did their homework, took responsibility and worked incredibly hard.
GoletaNow! was originally a no or slow growth group of citizens who became focused solely on achieving cityhood for Goleta. Why? Because regardless of one’s view on growth, more or less, the best people to make the decisions on growth in any given community, are those local people with local ties to the community. The decisions of those who work and live in the local community know the best needs for that community.
GoletaNow! sought early input from the community. As a smaller group, they caught an initial spark that when transformed to the community at large because a brilliant light, drawing a majority to vote for cityhood.
Before incorporation Goleta generated much more income to Santa Barbara County than they received in equivalent services. Their population was and remains approximately 28,000 within the incorporated city limits; however, it is approximately betweeen 50,000 to 70,000 in the outlying areas surrounding the city.
LAFCO, the Local Agency Formation Commissions, govern all aspects of the official incorporation process. our next best friend after our County Supervisor is the executive officers of our local LAFCO. The state publication on the incorporation process is A Guide to the LAFCO Process for Incorporations.
One of the most critical aspects of the incorporation process is the petition drive. There are three ways a community may begin the formal incorporation process. There can be a petition of at least 25% of registered voters, or a percentage of land owners of record, or a petition by a governmental entity.
GoletaNow! found that the best way to get public involvement was to gather the petitions signed by registered voters in the community. They chose this method because in provides community input, and allows for greater community involvement. You need a minimum of 25%; however, to make certain you have enough it is wise to gather much more than the minimum requirement.
The incorporation petition needs to containe a statement of reasons on why the community wants to incorporation. GoletaNow! noted incorporation was desirable to increase local control and accountability, retain local tax revenues in the community, increase local participation in civic commentary, and to promote reasonable local government boundaries (LAFCO’s requested reason).
GoletaNow! also needed to provide a map and legal description for the new city. The boundary issue was very contentious. The inclusion of Isla Vista was hotly debated. And, in the end GoletaNow! members decided inclusion of Isla Vista just did not work for the eventual incorporation of Goleta. So, they dropped its inclusion, and eventually went on to win incorporation for the city. It was a pragmatic decision, one each community will face, whether it is a boundary issue or something else. The community needs to be pragmatic.
The comprehensive fiscal analysis is a look at the new city’s financial health approximately 10 years into the future. It is critical for incorporation proponents to play a big role in the study. The proponents need to fight, kick and scream to be part of this fiscal analysis study.
Goleta City left in tact their water and sanitary districts as they felt those districts were doing a good job. Hey also contracted with the sheriff and county fire departments for their local service.
Revenue neutrality is awful, onerous and terrible. Goleta’s revenue neutrality agreement is likely the worst in terms of detriment to the new city and windfall to the county. See here, here, and here. Goleta must pay 50% of its property tax to Santa Barbara County forever. They must also pay 50% of their sales tax to the county for 10 years and then it drops to 20% forever. These were very drastic terms. Yet, despite it all, Jonny unequivocally claimed that was absolutely worth this high price to be free from county control and under the local control of a locally elected Goleta City Council.
On 5/31/01 the Santa Barbara County LAFCO approved the creation of Goleta City with the authority for the county board of supervisors to conduct a protest hearing. That hearing was conducted on 7/10/01 and the opposition to cityhood was unsuccessful in any protest of the petition moving forward to the ballot stage. The board determined the protest hearing failed and approved the measure to appear on the November 2001 ballot.
From July 2001 through the November 2001 election GoletaNow! identified potential voters and began a new and this time political drive for cityhood approval at the ballot. They used news letters and big community drives. They also consulted with experts on the election process. During this process they were advised that unless some of their group (incorporation proponents) agreed to run a city council members that the incorporation effort would fail at the ballot. In the end, four GoletaNow! members agreed to run, despite their reticence to become that political. After the election, all four of them had won election to the city council, including Jonny Wallis.
An interesting side note is the fact that Goleta needed the big box store tax revenues and transient occupancy taxes to be able to afford incorporation as well as fund their draconian revenue neutrality requirements. Many Goleta residents, including Jonny Wallis did not support the big box stores in their community, initially; however, when it came to actually paying for their independence from Santa Barbara County, those big box store tax revenues were indispensable to financing the city’s own creation.
Some final incorporation lessons:
1. Everything takes longer and costs more than anticipated;
2. Do your homework, consult with experts, and don’t promise things;
3. Be persistent and stick with the community;
4. Don’t make enemies. We are all neighbors in the same community.
Mike Eisner talks with Jonny Wallis
Well attended incorporation informational meeting
Photos taken by Bonnie Eisner