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Annexation plan irks Goleta residents

July 30, 1998
By MELINDA BURNS
NEWS-PRESS SENIOR WRITER

For the first time since 1972, the Goleta Water District has voted to annex land - and the location, on the ocean bluffs west of Goleta, has rankled some residents.

The property in question belongs to Arco and has been approved for the development of several golf courses. On Tuesday night, the district board voted unanimously to annex 130 acres of it in order to supply the project with reclaimed and drinking water from Goleta. The rest of the 208-acre property is already within district boundaries.

For a final approval, the annexation will go to the Local Agency Formation Commission, the agency that decides on district and city boundaries. Meanwhile,the property is in escrow for sale to a Delaware company, of which Capital Pacific Holdings, Inc. is the managing member.

On Tuesday night, the water board voted 5-0 to charge the future property owners a $4.5 million fee for tapping into the district's reclaimed water system to irrigate their grass. The district will deliver a much smaller supply of drinking water to the clubhouse and restaurant.

Both the annexation and the fee brought criticism from members of the Surfrider Foundation, who have tried in vain to stop the project for nearly a decade.They told the water board that the annexation amounted to a de facto changein the county's urban-rural boundary and would open the door for urbanization to march up the scenic coast.``I wonder how much Gaviota coastland could potentially be annexed by the district in the future,'' said Bob Keats, president of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy.

The opponents also objected to the hookup fee for the golf course, saying that the owners were getting a $700,000 break. Since January 1997, the district has charged developers a one-time fee of $23,588 per acre-foot of water to help defray the cost of the state water pipeline. (An acre-foot of water supplies enough water for six people per year.)These critics argued that since the Dos Pueblos golf course owners have signed up for 222 acre-feet of water for their grass, they should rightfully pay $5.2 million in hook-up costs, based on the charges in effect since 1997.``I am concerned that my water rates will go up to subsidize this project, and I don't want to see that,'' said Tom Phillips, a member of Surfrider and a Goleta resident.

But the board directors said that the 222 acre-feet was reclaimed water - not water for drinking. It is only fair, they said, to charge a customer less for water that is not potable.``Most of the arguments of the people who don't want this to happen have to do with land use,'' said board President Larry Mills. ``That's not our job. I do feel that the water district is a water district and our job is to provide water. I can't deny somebody water just because I don't like their project."

Mills noted further that the golf course would pay more for reclaimed water than any other customer using such a supply. In 1995, when the reclamation plant was new, the district allowed the Sandpiper Golf Course, the Ocean Meadows Golf Course, UCSB, Ellwood School and other large users to sign up at subsidized rates. The Dos Pueblos golf course will be paying its fair share of the $29 million reclamation plant, Mills said.

Whitt Hollis, an agent for the future golf course owners, said: ``We've been through an awful lot in these years. We've been analyzed to the nth degree.We are paying our fair share, plus some. There is no subsidizing in this arrangement."

Arco first proposed the Dos Pueblos golf course in 1991. The project was approved by the county Board of Supervisors in 1993 and appealed to the state Coastal Commission by opponents, who contended that it was illegal to build a golf course on land that was zoned for agricultural use.

The commission first rejected the project 6-4 in April 1994. Then, in a highly unusual move, the commission agreed to reopen hearings; and in November,1994, the vote changed to 8-2 for the project. Hours before the second vote, one of the commissioners who had voted against Dos Pueblos resigned. His replacement, an appointee of then-state Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, voted for the golf course.

Surfrider then filed a lawsuit, taking the case all the way to an appeals court, and losing again.

The project has left its mark on the district, too. Early last year, when it became clear that the board was not going to charge Arco the new hookup fees, the district's long-time manager, Bob Paul, resigned in protest.

The Dos Pueblos Golf Links will bring to five the total number of golf courses in the Goleta area, counting Sandpiper, Ocean Meadows, Glen Annie and La Cumbre. Dos Pueblos will consist of two public golf courses, an 18-hole championship course and a 9-hole course. Construction is expected to begin next year.