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Milpas Community Association's president, Alan Bleecker, serving up Capitol Hardware soft ice cream at the annual Trick or Treat on Milpas Street.

courtesy MCA

Milpas Community Association's president, Alan Bleecker, serving up Capitol Hardware soft ice cream at the annual Trick or Treat on Milpas Street.


Making Things Better on the Eastside

Funding and Organization Will Improve Milpas Corridor


You may be asking, “What is the Eastside Business Improvement District?” (EBID). We’d like to explain. The Milpas Community Association (MCA) was started four years ago with the goal of making the Milpas corridor a better place to live, work, and visit. This organization has been made up of a melting pot of wonderful individuals: small business owners, area residents, property owners, hotel operators, city government workers, and others who, working together, care about the neighborhood.

Competing nationally against cities all across America, the MCA was awarded second place in 2013 and first place in 2014 as “Neighborhood of the Year” in the Social Revitalization category by Neighborhoods USA. This evidences the success of this unified effort.

How did this happen? A small group of local business owners have invested a great deal of time and money in making it happen. Tri-County Produce, Giffin & Crane General Contractors, Santa Barbara Eyeglass Factory, The Habit Burger Grill, Capitol Hardware, Blue Sands Inn, McDonald’s, and Santa Barbara Plumbing are the main supporters. Also, many small (and large) businesses have donated for neighborhood events throughout these four years. The businesses on Milpas generously fund the holiday lights on Milpas, for example, brightening the street for everyone. Our city’s only contribution is to require us to obtain a permit to get the lights up. Many residents have supported what the organization is doing and joined. Many of our best volunteers live in this community, and they invest a lot of time and effort into making MCA better and putting on fun events.

Here is where the EBID comes in. The model of a small number of businesses digging into their pockets to provide consistent funding, and volunteers to make all the effort, for the betterment of the entire community is just not sustainable. It does not seem right (or fair) that a small group of people should be expected to bear this responsibility year after year when everyone benefits. It makes sense that everyone who benefits should have “skin in the game.” Everyone can see how the neighborhood has gotten better.

So we went to the City of Santa Barbara and asked how we can sustain these kinds of improvements. The city advised us that there is a tried-and-true process for making this happen, and that is to create a Business Improvement District. Downtown has had one in place since 1967, and that is how the downtown area funds events, decorations, and cleaning services. We worked with the city to understand how this works. The city insisted we hire, at our expense, an independent consulting firm to develop a plan where each business would receive specific benefits provided by the Business Improvement District for a small annual assessment (less than the cost of a one-half-page ad in this newspaper!). In that plan, our next step would be to “canvass” the businesses in the area and explain to them what the EBID is, why it is important, and how they will benefit from it. We have been doing everything we were asked to do by the city and the consulting firm.

While we were still planning to do our “outreach,” following the proper model, a few people, including a city councilmember, walked Milpas Street and contacted some businesses with what seemed to be the intention of creating opposition. Those people had already formed an opinion about the EBID, and unfortunately gave out inaccurate information. They started telling people that it was a new tax, which it is not. They told people that the EBID would apply to residential rental units. It would not. The EBID provides services the city can’t provide, and never will provide, to our businesses. The Milpas area businesses will decide if they want to see the improvements we’ve made continue, and they will also decide on improvements they want to see in the future. Some of the misinformation these people are deliberately circulating was never going to be part of the EBID.

These are the things we have done and want to continue to do: the Annual Milpas Holiday Parade, a SOLAR-LIT Christmas tree in the roundabout (a Santa Barbara “Gateway”), the holiday decorating contest, graffiti removal, trash cleanup, the “Taste of Milpas™,” the Halloween Trick or Treat on Milpas Street, homeless outreach, internships for youth, and using our events to help support other area nonprofit organizations and schools.

In addition, we would like to introduce a shuttle to allow visitors to enjoy the many excellent amenities and businesses that make this a thriving corridor. We’d like to provide cleaner sidewalks and a facelift for our public trash cans with art provided by the wonderful youth arts programs in this community. What is so wrong with wanting to do all these fun and beneficial things? All these things could be accomplished with each business contributing less than $1 a day! Why would someone want to shut this down?

We are committed to seeing our small, family, and local businesses thrive, and we will do everything we can to help our small businesses succeed. This will make the Milpas area is a better place to live, work, and visit! For more information about the EBID, please go to our website mcasb.org.

This editorial is authored by the Milpas Community Association Board of Directors: Alan Bleecker, President; Bea Molina, Vice President; Julianna Reichard, Treasurer; Sky Bonillo, Sue Burk, John Dixon, Bruce Giffin, Jarrett Gorin, Orlando Guerra, Santos Guzman, Ernie Lopez, Pedro Nava, and David Peterson; and Sharon Byrne, MCA Executive Director.

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