Mayor Helene Schneider

Paul Wellman

Mayor Helene Schneider

World Doesn’t End — Second Time in Two Years!

Mayor Exhorts Last-Minute Shoppers ‘Shop ’Til You Drop’

Saturday, December 22, 2012
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This week — for the second time in the last two years — the world did not come to an end as predicted. Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider expressed relief at this fact while also exhorting last-minute holiday shoppers to get downtown and spend their money. “As the World (Still) Turns, now is everyone’s chance to finish their holiday shopping,” the mayor wrote. “No more excuses!”

Schneider was referring to much publicized predictions that the world might cease to exist effective December 21. Those predictions were based on the fact that the last date to be included in the “Long Count” calendar created by the ancient Mayas was December 20. The Mayas themselves never predicted that the world would expire when their calendar did, but that did not prevent countless others from issuing such boldly dire warnings.

Of all mayors in Santa Barbara history, Schneider has been perhaps the most apocalyptically challenged. The end of the world had also been predicted last year — on May 21 — by Oakland-based evangelical minister Harold Camping. Like this Friday’s much-anticipated cataclysm, Camping’s end-of-days scenario failed to materialize as promised.

In the meantime, however, Schneider — as well as all of City Hall — finds herself much embroiled with the California Department of Finance over the fate of 15 downtown parking garages, built over decades with city Redevelopment Agency funding and constructed at the direction of the successive city councils acting in their capacity as Redevelopment Agency boards of directors. When California ordered the dissolution of all Redevelopment Agencies throughout the state late last year — in response to chronic budget woes — it left unresolved what would become of the assets of these agencies, worth billions of dollars. But when the City of Santa Barbara sought to absorb the parking lots its Redevelopment Agency bankrolled, the Department of Finance has twice taken steps to block this from happening. To date, that dispute remains unresolved.

Earlier this week, Schneider lead a delegation of City Hall heavyweights to meet with Department of Finance officials. The hour-long meeting was occasion for a frank exchange of views, but no decision came from it. In the meantime, ownership of the city lots — with hundreds of parking spaces offering 75 minutes of free parking — remains very much a $64-million question mark. Schneider alluded to that when commenting on the cosmic bullet the planet dodged this Friday. “Since it’s too late to shop online, better use those handy 75-minute free parking lots while we still have them,” the mayor wrote, adding somewhat tongue-in-cheekily: “Shop ’til you drop on State Street.”

Schneider decamped for Sacramento at 4 a.m. this Wednesday morning, accompanied by City Administrator Jim Armstrong, City Attorney Steve Wiley, and Community Development Director Paul Casey, to meet with Finance Department officials. Backing them up at the meeting was Assemblymember Das Williams, his chief of staff, and a representative for State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. As Schneider put it afterward, “We showed we were serious.” What the Santa Barbara delegation saw in response remains murky. “They did their best to be as non-committal as possible,” Schneider remarked. “They did say they would re-look at their policy based on the information we provided.”

A month ago, officials with the Department of Finance dropped a serious letter bomb on City Hall, insisting that the parking lots — and two other properties — did not constitute in their mind “a legitimate government function.” Because of that, they opined, City Hall would not be allowed to take possession of the lots and the former assets of the Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency would eventually have to be auctioned off. (The other major asset is property by the railroad depot — acquired with state transportation bonds — that’s been set aside for a new children’s museum. Plans for the proposed museum have been all but approved and funding has reportedly been secured for construction. Representatives for the museum were also on-hand for the meeting in Sacramento.) The only way these lots could qualify as “legitimate government functions,” wrote the Department of Finance in that missive, was if they were exclusively occupied by City Hall employees.

Community development czar Paul Casey echoed many of Schneider’s reaction to the meeting. “They were very non-committal,” he stated. “We really didn’t get a good read if they were impressed with our arguments or not.”

This was not the first collision between City Hall and the Department of Finance over the fate of the lots and the museum. This past summer, the Finance Department got language included in a bill that would have precluded any municipal government from taking possession of any former Redevelopment Agency assets unless it passed the “legitimate government function” test. But that bill specifically barred city parking lots from consideration. When city officials found out about the legislative attack, they sounded a battle cry. Assemblymember Williams — a former city councilmember who had consistently supported efforts to gut Redevelopment Agencies on the grounds that by so doing the state could spare public education from further cuts — was enlisted in the fray. Despite Williams’s criticism of Redevelopment Agencies in general — that they siphoned funds that could otherwise go to schools in order to subsidize private commercial development — he argued that Santa Barbara’s agency had been well-run, had spent millions over the years on affordable housing, and had, in fact, helped revitalize what would otherwise be a saggy and soggy downtown business district.

With help from Williams, the bill disappeared. At that point, all parties thought the matter had been put to rest. When the Department of Finance notified City Hall last month that it would not approve the transfer of agency assets — citing administrative procedures — city officials and Williams were very upset. At Wednesday’s meeting with Finance Department officials, Williams made it clear he thought the matter had been resolved this summer and was not happy the issue had taken on a new lease on life.

To many, the dispute may seem hopelessly wonky, esoteric, and abstract — involving governmental agencies not well-known and even less understood — but the ramifications of the outcome, while still speculative, could be quite dramatic and immediate. In a worst-case scenario, City Hall would have to sell its parking lots and structures, presumably to private developers. At risk would be the free 75 minutes of parking now offered at all municipal lots and the relatively low rates charged thereafter. What would become of the downtown Farmers Market, which takes place every Saturday at the city’s Cota Street lot? Likewise unknown, what would happen to the program allowing homeless people to park their RVs in city lots at night?

In many cities, downtown parking has been dominated by private interests. In Los Angeles, for example, that’s how developer and political power broker Rick Caruso — now so infamously embroiled with Montecito’s Miramar Hotel — made his initial fortune. But in Santa Barbara, government-sponsored parking has been integral to efforts to revitalize the city’s urban core. To that end, City Hall has spent millions not only building and maintaining lots and parking structures but also subsidizing their rates. Since the 1970s, Santa Barbara elected officials and City Hall functionaries have worried endlessly about the so-called “Goleta Threat,” a much-fretted about retail center that would suck the traffic, the shoppers, and the money away from downtown Santa Barbara. To that end, Santa Barbara’s Redevelopment Agency cleared the ground of small property owners to make room for the Paseo Nuevo shopping center. But without parking, Paseo Nuevo would be stillborn, so City Hall — through its Redevelopment Agency — sold the bonds to build two new parking garages. Likewise, when City Hall designated the downtown area just north of Carrillo Street an arts zone, the Redevelopment Agency put millions into the new Granada Theater. But it sunk infinitely more into building the new Granada garage.

Such redevelopment schemes have no shortage of critics. Property-rights advocates — typically on the right — object at the powers of eminent domain wielded by such agencies. Alternative-transit advocates worry that by subsidized parking, local governments are perpetuating the hegemony of the automobile and car-centric planning. In response to such concerns, Santa Barbara’s Redevelopment Agency had underwritten the costs for the downtown shuttle and included a bicycle storage area in the Granada garage for bipedal commuters and shoppers.

To date, Santa Barbara is the first California city to confront this question in the wake of its Redevelopment Agency’s dissolution. Given that 420 agencies throughout the state were abruptly shut down — as part of a desperate quest to save the cash-strapped state an estimated $1.7 billion — the resolution of this showdown could set an important precedent. How that fact colors the deliberations is a matter of speculation. So, too, is the extent to which any of Santa Barbara’s long and idiosyncratic history with redevelopment and parking might affect the thinking of Finance Department officials with broader statewide considerations on their minds. But the stakes are sufficiently high that the City of Santa Barbara can’t afford to back down. As Casey commented before the meeting, “I don’t want to be premature, but we will not take no for an answer.”

But for time being, as Mayor Schneider noted, City Hall still controls its parking lot destiny. Holiday shoppers are still guaranteed their 75 minutes of free parking. And for the second time in the past two years, the world has not come to a screeching halt.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

Thanks for the clarifying article. It would be near disastrous for the downtown to have private parking. It certainly would push more and more shoppers to Goleta with its mall and free parking, plus the to come Target.

But it is hard to see why the the railroad depot property should be public property - hard to see, too, why with all the museums in town there needs to be a children's museum, especially there!

As for the RDA monies, has any of it actually gone to schools? There are fewer cuts anyway because of the improving economy.

at_large (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 7:11 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Downtown has been a high priced tourist trap for years,and getting worse in that respect. I doubt many SB locals shop for much of anything on lower state street anymore. There are many other places to get a better deal on the same items that are offered in the crowded downtown area.
Santa Barbara WAS a quaint, charming village at one time, decades ago. Now look at it.

GluteousMaximus (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 8:07 a.m. (Suggest removal)

"In Los Angeles, for example, that’s how developer and political power broker Rick Caruso — now so infamously embroiled with Montecito’s Miramar Hotel — made his initial fortune."

Wow no wonder so many of my LA friends who will be voting in mayoral primaries despise him. Well they've listed other reasons too.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 11:58 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Gluteous is so tragically correct. What local merchants are left? Very few. I try to patronize them when I'm shopping in their market of goods. But look at all the big corporate stores all over State St., all the same stores you can find in any strip mall in Camarillo or Oklahoma. The real shift started around 1999.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 12:01 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Santa Barbara WAS a quaint, charming village at one time, decades ago. Now look at it.

GluteousMaximus (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 8:07 a.m.

Amen. When I spend money, I do it elsewhere.

billclausen (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 3:27 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Retail sales tax support city employees salaries pensions and perks. Know that every time you shop downtown. The more you spend, the more they get. See if they can drop you a thank you note sometime.

Oblati (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 5:24 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Do you suppose the changes in downtown retail happened about the same time a city employees got unions and collective bargaining (Jerry Brown I) and what was quaint and pokey had to become more aggressive and sales tax productive to pay for all the newly bargained for city employee perks and benefits who harvest the lion's share of city retail sales taxes?

Oblati (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 5:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

How convenient Oblati ignores the fact of increasing corporate hegemony nationally and the incursion locally, artificially driving up rents and pricing out local entrepreneurs.
You can't claim to be any kind of supporter of small local business or claim any knowledge of the overall economy and ignore this fact.
Money spent at very few corporate stores in SB county stays in SB county, because few are based here (Powell-Peralta Skateboards being an example of a locally based corporation, Dekkers (sic?) another.)

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 5:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Marin County communities have banned corporate stores - no big chains there. Why do you suppose progressively-pure SB has not followed the same course?

Oblati (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 6:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

If I shopped downtown, I'd park in city employees lots, since my private shopping is considered a function of government by the city of SB.
RDA money is a loan. We're fortunate that RDA's were discontinued before Schneider et al could spend $1 million paving DelaGuerra Plaza, etc, etc - remember the nearly daily flurry of new ways to use RDA money in the weeks prior to cancellation? We sure didn't need Williams help in increasing SB's debt service by taking over Cliff Drive from Caltrans, either. These are moot points, however, since we're facing near-term bankruptcy due to pension costs, an issue the city and county are ignoring.
Ken_Volok: SB's investment real estate consortiums are groups of local residents who prefer "For Lease" signs to lower rents.

14noscams (anonymous profile)
December 22, 2012 at 7:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

SB residents are consortium groups who are happy State Street landlords did not degrade the shopping environment with cheap and trashy mercantile purveyors low rent bring in.

Thank you SB landlords for taking the monetary hits during the recent downturn.. The street is back which you could never say if you had turned it over to the lowest bidders during that difficult period.

Oblati (anonymous profile)
December 23, 2012 at 12:33 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Define "cheap and trashy mercantile purveyors". Would that include:
Russ' Camera?
Earthling Books?
Pure Gold?
Manne Gallery?
The Game Keeper?
True Grit?

Are you even familiar with these shops?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 23, 2012 at 12:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Define "cheap and trashy mercantile purveyors". Would that include:
Russ' Camera?
Earthling Books?
Pure Gold?
Manne Gallery?
The Game Keeper?
True Grit?
Video Schmideo?

Are you even familiar with these shops?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 23, 2012 at 12:48 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The businesses moving in wouldn't have hired people thus stimulating the economy Oblati?
Where do you get you economics tutelage, Cruella DeVille?

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 23, 2012 at 12:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

"Money spent at very few corporate stores in SB county stays in SB county, because few are based here (Powell-Peralta Skateboards being an example of a locally based corporation, Dekkers (sic?) another.)"

Very astute comment! Shop the local small businesses wherever they be located! 100% of that money stays local. Whatever happens with big box stores in SB, never ever, ever let the greedy Waltons/Walmart get their money-grubbing hands and trashy slave-labor manufactured cheap (unlike inexpensive) merchandise set foot in this town .....or kiss the majority of the locals good-bye!

OffTheBeat (anonymous profile)
December 23, 2012 at 5:58 p.m. (Suggest removal)

What locals are left.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 23, 2012 at 7:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

1. Russ's was done in by Samy's and the Brooks crowd shift - also owner got old and perhaps retied like many of the other camera shops - Westbury's anyone? - photo business changed

2. Morning Glory got done in by Ipods etc - few bought new or used hard copy CDs or vinyl any longer

3. Earthling over-expanded and always had a poor business model anyway, never could figure out what it was supposed to be, staff not as helpful as they could have been and store remodel was dark and gloomy

4. Pure Gold - who was their clientele anyway - grunge is gone

5. Manne Gallery - was that were you got your Elvis on Velvet framed in white naugahyde?

6. The Game Keeper - Digital and divorce did in family board games - ever hear of Bowling Alone - market left the inventory

7. True Grit- are we back to grunge again?

8. Video-Schmideo was grand, but again done in by digital and download

So it looks like the market left these shop keepers, not the State Street rents.

Perhaps we can also weep for Josie's El Cielito, the Chinese shops with the wooden floors and tall cases with little drawers, Trenwiths, The Village Store, 1129, Lou Rose. I Magnin, Joseph Magnin's, Woolworths, the theater showing Spanish Lanugage films, Les Belle Miches, Charlottes, Head of the Wolf, Irene's Bakery, Cafe Bianco .....good grief, when has there not been change on State Street.

Borders did do a number on Gramaphone, but again the digital and online market would have done them in too later - buying habits and holding expensive inventory in lieu of online marketing has changed store-front retail more than anything else.

We can be glad during the very recent down turn when there were plenty of empty store-fronts, landlords did not sell out retail empty space cheap and dirty to dirty movie parlors, more 99 cent stores and check-cashing emporiums --you know, those recession-proof industries.

Retail has changed - not just the rents charged for premium space. Good local business plans held their own, and are still there on State Street. Lots of them.

Oblati (anonymous profile)
December 23, 2012 at 9:22 p.m. (Suggest removal)

1. Wrong
2.Wrong, disc sales still outpace legal downloads.
3. It wasn always obviously a bookstore.
4. People who shopped at Pure gold tended to be a bit smarter and more stylish than your average WASP.
5. Your patronizing response betrays ignorance of both me and the history of the local art scene.
6. Perhaps.
7. Back to 4 and 5.
8. Back to #2, and they had their rent doubled. In addition you might want to know digital is both disc and download .

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
December 23, 2012 at 10:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

At least with regards to VideoSchmideo and Morning Glory if we are going to claim that our own economic climate is the reason these stores are gone then the rest of the country is following our model since stores selling and/or renting broad selections of discs have precipitously declined nation wide; think internet sales... Once you remove limited selection, huge chains such as Costco and BestBuy the brick and mortar outlets are almost nil in the U.S.

I personally miss Pure Gold.

italiansurg (anonymous profile)
December 24, 2012 at 7:30 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Did the "rent double" or did the tenants refuse to pay market rental rates and expected the landlord to subsidize their weak business plan?

Oblati (anonymous profile)
December 24, 2012 at 8:02 a.m. (Suggest removal)

If the parking structures are sold, who pockets the money ?
I assume this dustup is because the state expects to take the money when the garages are auctioned off.

ljp93105 (anonymous profile)
December 24, 2012 at 9:47 a.m. (Suggest removal)

This raid on local assets by the state reaches far beyond Santa Barbara (yes, I know, it's hard to accept that it's not all about you). Many California municipalities have developed and own public parking facilities. Check out SLO as one example. If the state continues to usurp that which is local public property, other cities will be affected. SB has allies if it would use them - like the League of California Cities. Then, there's the courts. The rationale for public ownership of such resources is to keep them available to the wider public by keeping them as affordable as possible. Private parking lots in upscale communities like SB would be foreclosed to the poorer folk (Chevies, Hondas, old Fords). And what sort of redress do you think would exist at privately owned parking lots? Good luck...

Pagurus (anonymous profile)
December 24, 2012 at 10:54 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Way to promote fiscally responsible spending Helene. Oh wait you have no idea what that means. Telling people to go downtown and spend all of their money because the city might have to sell its parking lots? How are we supposed to take this poor excuse for a mayor seriously when this is the message she sends out?

MSSB (anonymous profile)
December 28, 2012 at 9:24 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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