Westmont Magazine Let the Hearings Proceed
After Six Years of Delays, Hearings on the Updated Master Plan are Finally Underway
Plans to alleviate overcrowded residence halls and inadequate classroom space are progressing slowly through a governmental maze of public hearings and critique. Montecito Planning Commissioners have poured over the details of thick environmental documents that conclude the Master Plan update is better for the environment and neighbors than the plan approved 30 years ago. Still, a small group of opponents continues to protest the project, calling Westmont officials untrustworthy.
College leaders continue their commitment to doing the right thing. They even agreed to delay several hearings in a last-ditch attempt to mediate with opponents. More than 240 neighbors who live within half a mile of the college and more than 1,000 Montecitans have publicly expressed support for the updated plan as members of the Friends of Westmont.
Hundreds of supporters endured two all-day hearings in hopes of speaking in favor of the project before the Montecito Planning Commission and Montecito Board of Architectural Review. Despite allowing opponents to testify at both meetings, commissioners postponed public comments for supporters. Hearings will continue in the coming months, and the decision will likely be appealed to the board of supervisors.
The process has been frustrating at times, but campus officials are determined to improve the educational experience for the students. Admissions officials say it’s becoming increasingly difficult to attract top students because of the inadequate space. Westmont has a little over half the square footage of similar liberal arts colleges. Crowded conditions exist all across campus, from the art studio above Reynolds Gallery to computer labs in the temporary Kerrwood annex building.
Some 10 years ago, county planners asked the college to update its Master Plan. After more than 100 meetings with neighbors and an extensive internal planning process, Westmont submitted its revision. That was nearly six years ago. Santa Barbara county officials said an updated environmental report was not needed, but Westmont agreed to pay for one to make sure all the issues were thoroughly studied. When concerns were raised about that report, the college agreed to do a second one.
The updated plan calls for no increase in enrollment, parking permits or events on campus. It simply provides the facilities needed for 1,200 students. Even after the buildout, more than 80 acres of open space will remain. Westmont’s goal hasn’t changed during its 60 years Montecito: it wants to provide the best possible education for 1,200 students — and be a good neighbor.