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Isla Vista Clinic at Risk?

Supervisors Mull Options for Three Embarcadero del Mar Properties


Monday, October 14, 2013

The county’s undecided plans to sell or keep the Isla Vista Clinic building, a vacant church property, and a solar-powered parking lot along Embarcadero del Mar — all formerly owned by Santa Barbara’s Redevelopment Agency (RDA) — will go before the Board of Supervisors for the third time on Tuesday. The supervisors will vote on staff’s latest recommendations to hold onto the downtown I.V. properties before sending an accompanying long-range management plan to the RDA Oversight Board and then to the state on October 26 for a final decision on jurisdiction.

Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics (SBNC) — a nonprofit organization that operates two clinics on Santa Barbara’s Eastside, one on its Westside, and one in Isla Vista, and serves roughly 17,000 low-income patients each year — previously owned the building that holds the I.V. Clinic, but sold it to the county RDA several years ago. Redevelopment agencies across the state were then dissolved in 2011, and the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors now acts as the successor agency for the three Isla Vista properties.

In May, SBNC publicly announced it was experiencing serious financial troubles and has since accepted donations from several organizations across the county to stay afloat. SBNC continued to lease out half of the 970 Embarcadero del Mar building for about $3,100 per month to keep the I.V. Clinic open. The clinic currently sees about 1,110 patients each month, 25 percent of which are Goleta residents.

Several I.V. Clinic representatives have expressed concern that patients would suffer significant hardship and inconvenience if the facility was sold, as it takes three bus rides to get to the County Health Clinic located on Calle Real. Several other stakeholders — former and current UCSB students, I.V. families, and several community members — have urged the supes and the RDA Oversight Board to keep the I.V. Clinic and the church property rather than sell the buildings and distribute the proceeds.

Students and community members are hoping to turn the remaining half of the building that holds the clinic and the vacant church property next door into a community center. Representatives from UCSB’s Associated Students cited the recent poverty study that said Isla Vista is the only town in the county without a community center.

According to Frank Thompson — who finances affordable housing in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and has become heavily involved in the issue — the current space for the clinic is the only feasible one. He recently conducted a study and found that virtually all of the commercial space on the ground floor in Isla Vista is occupied.

“Basically, someone would have to take [the space] away from somewhere else, or build something,” Thompson said. Either is long-term. [The clinic] needs to stay where it’s at.” He added the SBNC put in $600,000 worth of improvements at the I.V. location in 2004 for partitions, painting, electric work, and a computer system.

As a point of comparison, Thompson said a new mixed-use building on Seville Road has already leased the commercial space on its first floor — roughly 22,000 square-feet — to a restaurant, coffee shop, and gym. The second through fourth floor are apartments. “The rent [for the commercial space] is roughly $36,000 per month,” he said. “Up until a couple years ago, all of the restaurants combined probably didn’t pay that much.”

At a board meeting last month, the supervisors rejected staff’s recommendations to sell the I.V. Clinic building and the church property — appraised at $1.6 million and $2.4 million, respectively — and keep the parking lot for “government use” or “future development.” Supervisor Doreen Farr, whose district includes Isla Vista, strongly advocated for the county to keep the three buildings to serve the community. “It’s important to remember how limited space is in Isla Vista,” Farr said. “Costs to relocate would be astronomical.”

The State Department of Finance has the final say if the county can keep the buildings, because they are former RDA assets. Farr said she is prepared to go to Sacramento if needed. The state has over a year — until January 1, 2015 — to make a decision after it sees the plans from the Board of Supervisors and the RDA Oversight Board.

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