Just over 30 years ago, I ran for the Goleta Water Board. I was barely 30 years old. Not sure what got me motivated to get into politics, but I do recall I was excited about learning something new.
Now, you might ask yourself, could running for a water utility company be considered politics? Well, at that time there was no government of any kind for Goleta. Santa Barbara County dictated everything, and Goletans were at the mercy of their bidding. And, what made things even worse, was a utility company had become the most powerful decision-making body on the South Coast.
Environmentalists were just coming of their own. The recently celebrated oil spill of 1969 was the springboard for Santa Barbara, and they branched out like the cracks in a broken windshield, targeting everything. In the early 1970s, aside from oil, the largest political controlling factor was water, and that had become the new main target.
Goleta was still a relatively sleepy town then. When I first moved to Santa Barbara in the early ’60s, the paved portion of State Street ended where Big Five Sporting Goods is located. It used to be a Thrifty’s and was a great place to have dinner in their diner. But that’s another story.
Goleta was nothing more than what is now called Old Town, and there was really no reason to go there. It was like all farming communities in the state. It would be years before Camino Real came to fruition. Housing developments were springing up, and Goleta became known as the place where the families moved to because it was cheaper than Santa Barbara. And that’s when the political climate changed.
The only way to control growth was to control the water. Bill Wallace, who was a supervisor at that time, had gained a lot of power and clout, and utilized his Isla Vista buddies and UCSB to dictate his agenda. He had managed to place his friends on the Goleta Water Board and thereby control the water.
It was also at that time that State Water was being considered to help assure there was enough of the liquid gold for Goleta’s future development, and that’s what really started the conflict. Development. The word had grown to become so ugly that even developers didn’t want to be called developers.
When I entered the picture, I was just a na•ve kid who really had no clue what I was getting into. Up until then, I hadn’t realized how cruel, corrupt and what kind of a blood sport politics was, even for such a low-level local office.
Much to my surprise, I had garnered great support, even from some more liberal-minded people, who saw that using a utility company to control Goleta’s future wasn’t the way to do business. To this day, I thank all those who contributed to my efforts.
During that first election night, we were leading the race until the votes from Isla Vista came in. The students turned everything around, and the same thing happened the second time I ran as well.
During the campaign, I was painted as one of the dreaded “developers,” though the only thing I developed in my life was planting avocado trees. There were propaganda pieces depicting a hillside with avocados and a (state) pipeline coming over the top with people pouring out. Things got so heated, even Jane Fonda went to UCSB to denounce me and added that we needed to protect the whales.
Simple minds somehow made a connection. Even long-time friends bought into the smear campaign and started thinking of me as someone who wanted nothing but to build out Goleta and destroy its country lifestyle.
Since I was stupid and learning as I was going along, I couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to increase their water supply to take care of the residents and allow others the opportunity to live here as well. It wasn’t up to a utility to control what could and couldn’t be done. But for many years, it did just that.
I was so angered at the time that UCSB students ? a transient population, clueless to their surroundings and brainwashed by propaganda ? controlled what happened to long-term residents. I launched my own personal campaign on Washington to make my argument. I did get replies from a congressman, which I guarantee wouldn’t happen today. However, I was shot down, telling me it was basically the law and that they had a right to vote where they were living at the time.
Over the years, the kids have continued to control the South Coast, and they’ve always been used as pawns. So nothing changed in over three decades, and nothing ever will.
Fast-forward to today. Goleta has become a monster. There’s almost nothing left of what it looked like, except Old Town along Hollister. I’m personally blown away by the volume of growth that has taken place, and all without the development of any more water supply.
In hindsight, the hippies of old may have had it right. I firmly believe that landowners have a right to do what is legally possible with their land, but I’m also somewhat dismayed by how Goleta has been allowed to grow at such a rampant pace without the proper planning of an adequate water supply. So I’m torn between progress and managed development.
The reality is, it’s too late. Goleta is almost a bigger city than Santa Barbara, and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. But looking back, I wonder if I would have thought differently had I known what it would become. Who knows?
I can tell you one thing: Jane Fonda wouldn’t have held any water with me.
The author, Henry Schulte, is a regular contributor to Voices. He lives in Santa Barbara.