Goleta (; Spanish: , "schooner") is a city in southern Santa Barbara County, California, US. It was incorporated as a city in 2002, after a long period as the largest unincorporated, populated area in the county. As of the 2000 census, the Census-designated place (CDP) had a total population of 55,204, however, a significant portion of the census territory of 2000 did not incorporate into the new city. The population was 29,888 at the 2010 census.
The area of present-day Goleta was populated for thousands of years by the native Chumash people. Locally they were known by the first European settlers as Canaliños (for the canoes they built for travel to the Channel Islands). One of the largest villages, S'axpilil, was north of the Goleta Slough, not far from the present-day Santa Barbara Airport.
The first European visitor was Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo, who sailed past in 1542. During the 1980s, discovery of some 16th-century cannon on the beach led to the advancement of a theory that Sir Francis Drake sailed into the Goleta Slough in 1579, where he may have spent several weeks repairing his ship.
In the 18th century, two Spanish expeditions came to the area. The second founded the Presidio of Santa Barbara and Mission to the east, and began the work of converting the Chumash to Roman Catholicism. During the 19th century most of the area, formerly covered with oak trees, was deforested, and ranching was the principal land use during this time. Nicolas A. Den, grantee of the Rancho Dos Pueblos Mexican land grant and his father-in-law Daniel A. Hill, grantee Rancho La Goleta, became wealthy in the late 1840s by selling locally grown beef to the thousands of miners who came to the California Gold Rush.
19th and 20th centuries
The Goleta Valley was a prominent lemon-growing region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and was largely agricultural. Several areas, especially the Ellwood Mesa, were developed for oil and natural gas extraction. In the 1920s, aviation pioneers started using portions of the Goleta Slough that had silted-in due to agriculture to land and takeoff. As former tidelands, the title to these lands was unclear. Starting in 1940, boosters from the city of Santa Barbara lobbied and obtained federal funding and passed a bond measure to formally develop an airport on the Goleta Slough. The necessity for an airport – or at least a military airfield – became more apparent after a Japanese submarine shelled the Ellwood Oil Field in 1942. This was one of the few direct-fire attacks on the US mainland during WW II. The Marine Corps undertook completion of the airport and established Marine Corps Air Station Santa Barbara on the site of the current University of California, Santa Barbara campus.
After the war, Goleta Valley residents supported the construction of Lake Cachuma, which provided water, enabling a housing boom and the establishment of research and aerospace firms in the area. In 1954, the University of California, Santa Barbara moved to part of the former Marine base. Along with the boom in aerospace, the character changed from rural-agricultural to high-tech. Goleta remains a center for high-tech firms, and a bedroom community for neighboring Santa Barbara.
Goleta was incorporated as a city in 2002 after several unsuccessful attempts. A significant urbanized area remains unincorporated between the town of Goleta and the city of Santa Barbara, largely consisting of the area which polled against incorporation prior to the 2002 election (this area was excluded from the city boundaries to facilitate approval of incorporation). There has been some discussion of annexation of this area (sometimes dubbed "Noleta") by the city of Santa Barbara. In addition, the student community of Isla Vista directly to the south was excluded from the new city of Goleta, even though the communities share a ZIP code and many community resources. The LAFCO executive director cited "political infeasibility" as the reason, although the only poll on the issue indicated a city of Goleta including Isla Vista would have passed at the ballot box. The current boundaries of Goleta are shown in the city's map.
The 2000 census figures reflect the census-designated place of Goleta, which was somewhat larger than the incorporated city.
Goleta is a suburb that has largely avoided the suburban sprawl that characterizes other parts of southern California. Nearby Santa Barbara tends to attract tourists and houses most of the area's residents. Goleta does have some urban decay around the Old Town area.
In July 2008, the Gap Fire wildfire consumed more than over several weeks.