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Cityhood Isn't Getting Easier for Fledgling Municipality of Goleta

After its first year, the Santa Barbara neighbor finds itself under relentless scrutiny, even for the design of its city logo.

November 05, 2002|Veronique de Turenne | Special to the Times

GOLETA — It took two decades for the people of Goleta to get their own city. They jiggered boundaries, tallied tax revenue and learned the fine points of incorporation law before voting to make it official.

Now, with nearly a year of cityhood behind them, it turns out that getting there was, perhaps, the easy part.

As the newest city in Santa Barbara County, Goleta's every action gets analyzed. From a stop-work order issued last week to a developer who violated a law protecting the city's beloved monarch butterflies to the current search for a city logo, everything done by the city brings out opinions.

"We're still pretty new, and there's a lot of interest about our city," said Margaret Connell, who serves as Goleta's first mayor. "And there's a lot of passion."

Take that logo, for instance.

When the Santa Barbara News-Press ran an "unauthorized, strictly-for-fun" contest for readers to suggest a city logo, more than 80 people responded.

Entries ranged from artistic arrangements of city staples like the butterfly, citrus fruit and the sea, to political cartoons lampooning the suburban sprawl that threatens Goleta's farmland.

Goleta officials, who had hired a professional artist to craft the city symbol, were miffed. They thought that the News-Press, which had editorialized against cityhood and criticized some of the young municipality's actions, was making light of Goleta's business.

"I would have done anything in my power to dissuade you from doing this," Connell told the newspaper. She worried that residents might mistake the informal contest for an officially sanctioned design search.

A newspaper column about the contest argued that the entries show a love for Goleta, and suggested that the city consider some of the designs. "Phooey" and "Lighten up, will ya!" the column said.

But Kathy Fritz, a Santa Barbara-based graphic artist chosen to craft the logo for police cars, lapel pins and the city's stationery, wasn't laughing. The design she is fine-tuning incorporates the Pacific Ocean, mountains and, of course, a monarch butterfly. The council is expected to make a final decision in November.

Goleta, which earned cityhood when almost 58% of the populace voted to incorporate last Nov. 6, deserves respect, Fritz said.

"They made the whole thing seem like a game, and it isn't," she said. "We're creating a visual identity for the city, and the people who live here and love the place take that seriously."

Some who live outside the city take a different view.

Jeff Shelton, an architect who was born and raised in Santa Barbara County, was helping his children do their homework when he first read about the contest. By the end of the evening, he had a series of designs that needle Goleta for its shortcomings.

"Goleta, where Santa Barbarans have to drive sometimes to buy cheaper stuff," one logo reads, referring to the big-box retail stores that provide a significant chunk of the city's tax base.

Another logo features a felled citrus tree and the caption "Goleta -- Once The Good Land," a reference to a decades-old nickname.

"I saw an initial logo that Goleta was working on, and it showed butterflies and orange trees and my reaction was, 'They've cut all the orange trees down,' " Shelton said. "I mean, that logo is all about stuff that used to be there and is gone."

Shelton sees his drawings more as a challenge than a criticism. "I want the city to make something good of itself," he said. "I've been watching Goleta grow and the orchards get ripped out, so I fear for its future."

But Goletans said Shelton's view of the city's shortcomings is the reason it incorporated in the first place. By writing its own general plan and enacting zoning regulations, the city hopes to direct growth to preserve what is left of its rural past.

"There's a growing feeling of community in Goleta," Connell said. "We're here to stay, and no matter how anyone thinks we should do things, we'll do them in the way that's best for the city."

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