Who Approves Development?

The Goleta Water District (District) is not a land use agency and does not have the authority to approve development projects. The District simply serves water to homes, businesses, and agricultural operations in its service area.  Determining whether or not proposed projects will have adverse impacts on the community is the responsibility of a land use planning agency, which within the District service area is either the City of Goleta (City) or the County of Santa Barbara (County), depending on where a project is located.  Through the planning process, the City or the County will evaluate a project’s design, determine its compatibility with the existing neighborhood, and prepare an Environmental Impact Review (EIR) to evaluate potential impacts associated with a project and propose any mitigations.

While the drought has increased awareness of the role of water in relation to development, water supply and impacts are one of eighteen resources categories project applicants must address in the EIR.  The EIR process provides the City and the County with the ability to approve or deny a project on a wide range of criteria, including traffic, noise and visual impacts, air quality, and growth inducing impacts.  The City and the County also have the ability under the law to grant an exception to existing rules governing height requirements, setbacks, or zoning changes to allow a proposed project to proceed.

By contrast, the District’s role is limited to determining whether a customer has a pre-existing historical water credit, or can be issued a new entitlement.  Under the SAFE Water Supplies Ordinance, when normal water supply conditions exist, the District is restricted to issuing no more than 1% its total water for new allocations, and only if a variety of conditions are met.  Due to the drought and reduced deliveries from Lake Cachuma, no new connections have been issued since October 1, 2014, and proposed development projects without pre-existing water entitlement are not being processed or connected to the District water system.

Residents interested in learning more about a proposed development project, or interested in commenting on a project, should contact the City or the County for more information on when hearings are scheduled.  These entities can provide information on the process a particular project will go through, and when meetings related to the design review and planning commission hearings for a project will occur.