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The Goleta Valley was a prominent lemon-growing region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and was largely agricultural. In addition, 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 surfaced offshore and shelled the Ellwood Oil Field in 1942. This was one of the only direct-fire attacks on the U.S. mainland during World War II. The Marine Corps undertook completion of the airport and established living quarters on the site of the current University of California, Santa Barbara campus.

After the war, Goleta Valley residents supported the construction of Cachuma Lake, 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.

Today, the city of Goleta is still considered to be a quiet community while Santa Barbara tends to attract most of the tourists and the area’s residents. Most of The Santa Barbara area’s Big Box stores are located in Goleta.

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