Relocating the City of Santa Barbara’s National Guard Armory to the airport could bring an education facility to the area, members of the Parks and Recreation Community Foundation (PARC) explained during a meeting last week. The armory — which takes up an entire city block — is currently located at 700 East Canon Perdido Street, nestled between Santa Barbara High School and Junior High School.
Mayor Helene Schneider and school district representatives met with PARC to discuss the acquisition of the armory land space for public purposes. According to Bob Patterson, PARC chairman, the National Guard has tentatively agreed to relocate the armory to the airport in what former school board member Lanny Ebenstein described as a “win-win situation” that would result in a better use of the area and a more effective armory.
“The National Guard will only deal with this community if it is speaking with one voice,” said Don Olson, former city planner and member of PARC since 2002. Olson and Patterson met with Colonel Kevin Ellsworth in 2004 and agreed that no state representative would be involved. However, issues of funding and timelines have halted any prior plans of relocating the armory.
Patterson, citing a point previously made by City Administrator Jim Armstrong, brought up the need for ongoing revenue for the airport. The airport is considered an independent enterprise fund: since no public tax supports it, the airport is responsible for generating its own income streams to sustain itself, explained Schneider. The airport land slated for the relocated armory is currently vacant, however about four acres are used for storage purposes which bring in approximately $350,000 annually, Schneider said.
According to Patterson, the large disparity in acreage and value between the armory site — valued at approximately $6 million — and the airport land — valued at approximately $19 million — complicates issues of providing fair market value to the city and ensuring the airport benefits from the exchange. Furthermore, Proposition 60 A represents a legal barrier towards implementing PARC’s plan. “Because of Prop 60 A, cash won’t do it,” Patterson said. “There has to be [a land] exchange.”
The airport land, said speakers at the meeting, fits the National Guard’s requirements for an armory. Because of the city’s geographic isolation from Ventura and North County, the National Guard is not considering other locations, Olson said. The airport also provides a secure site for the armory. After the September 11 attacks, the National Guard determined it needed a “fenceable barrier,” which requires approximately 14.5 acres, Patterson explained.
PARC is aiming to secure an agreement with the City Council to prevent outside proposals from interfering with its efforts. The organization aims to develop a plan — in consultation with potential stakeholders — to provide an income stream to the airport, find funding to make up for the disparity between the armory site and the airport land, and to fund construction for a new facility at the airport, Patterson said.
“It’s a reasonable request,” Schneider said, and was open to revisit PARC’s progress in a couple of years. There are no other proposals at the moment that would interfere with PARC’s plan, according to Schneider. “The city has a great interest in the acquisition,” she went on. “But the question is how to go about it.”
Schneider expressed concern regarding the proposal’s cost — which includes the expense of building the new armory, as well as the upgrade and operational costs for the existing building’s new function, whatever that may be — which she estimated would total tens of millions of dollars. “It’s hard to raise money in this time, and the city has its own infrastructure problems to deal with,” Schneider said. She asked PARC members if they would consider going to voters or using bonds to fund their proposal.
Patterson complimented the city and Parks and Recreation Department’s performance under current economic conditions, but asserted the importance of the community’s interest in the matter. “We’re looking at a side of town that is underserved,” Patterson said. “The community ought to make a decision on how to best serve the citizens in this area — that’s what I hear a lot at my board meetings.”
Santa Barbara School District Superintendent David Cash said he sees “incredible opportunities” for the armory site as a possible instrumental career and technical education facility.
Olson and others are hopeful that armory site, converted to a future educational facility, would have far-reaching positive impacts for generations to come. “As a community, as a country, we’re much more aware of the challenges we’re facing with education,” Olson said. “The armory has the potential to be the site for new facilities, programs, and technologies.”