Mark Alvarado vividly remembers walking along the Yanonali Street bridge near Montecito Street in the city’s Eastside when an MTD bus came barreling down one way and a MarBorg dump truck went zooming up the other. The roadway there isn’t just steep, narrow, and winding; there’s no sidewalk either. “Hell, man,” Alvarado remembered, “I almost jumped into the culvert.”
Today, Alvarado works for City Hall as staff liaison for the recently formed Neighborhood Advisory Council. For the past 13 years, neighborhood activists have been demanding that City Hall fix that bridge and install sidewalks. For that same period of time, city officials have exhausted themselves explaining why that couldn’t be done. But at a packed-house City Council meeting this Monday night, things changed. The City Council — happily armed with $4.3 million in onetime funds slotted for a host of capital projects — set aside $433,000 to build a cantilevered sidewalk with a protective railing. In addition, the council voted to spend $280,000 to replace Eastside street lights with newer, brighter, more energy-efficient LED bulbs.
The Neighborhood Advisory Council had declared both of these projects their top priorities. Likewise, the alternative transit organization COAST has been working with Eastside residents — mostly immigrant parents — for the past three years. A week ago, about 40 residents and activists held a protest vigil in favor of the new sidewalk, noting how unsafe they felt walking their kids to Cleveland School. Maybe half that number showed up at the council chambers Monday to repeat their message. So too did supporters of the Milpas Community Association, singing from the same hymnal.
Ever since a 15-year-old high school student was killed while crossing Milpas Street about two years ago, the traffic safety concerns of Eastside residents have taken a decidedly higher profile. After that, City Hall dispatched newly hired city traffic engineer Derrick Bailey to the neighborhood. And Bailey, rather than explaining why the project was too expensive to be built, figured out how to design something that would work without breaking the bank.
There were many such stories Monday night as the councilmembers figured out how to divvy up $4.3 million. Everybody, it seemed, got something. Showing up in force were junior leaguers and activists with Friends of the Library, exhorting the council to give them $500,000 to build a new kids’ wing on the basement floor of the downtown library. The kids’ wing — which will provide special reading nooks, tutoring tables, computer labs, and space for music-making and storytelling — has been on the drawing boards for years. The city’s contribution, the councilpersons were told, would help legitimize future fundraising efforts needed to make up the rest of the steep construction costs.
More iffy was the $300,000 the council voted to give the Community Arts Workshop to help refurbish the building on the 600 block of Garden Street as a permanent home for Summer Solstice — at least three months a year — not to mention rehearsal space for area performance troupes. At one point, the workshop had $1 million in Redevelopment Agency funds burning a hole in its pockets, but when the state abolished all Redevelopment Agencies three years ago, that money disappeared. The $300,000 will help cover the costs of soil remediation and final designs.
Perhaps the biggest winner was the roundabout slated for the intersection at Las Positas and Cliff Drive. Although the project already has $700,000 in gas-tax revenues set aside, the roundabout proposal favored by a majority of the council will cost about $700,000 more than that to build. Councilmember Dale Francisco questioned how much “nicer” that roundabout would be than the more traditional stoplight that the existing funding could pay for now. He was told the roundabout would save 50 seconds per rotation for motorists seeking to go to Hendry’s Beach.
The Police Department got $400,000 to refurbish the police station’s poorly functioning heating, air conditioning, and ventilation system, which at times blows too hot and too cold simultaneously. New playground equipment at Kids’ World — now 22 years old — got a commitment of $250,000, and a unified and beautified downtown signage system, advocated by the tourist industry, got $250,000 in funding. References were made to the 30 tourist ships scheduled to anchor in Santa Barbara this year, and Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss — who championed such visits in his recent council election — was referred to as “USS Hotchkiss.” And the Cabrillo softball field was slated for $300,000 for renovation and improvements.
Although the council wound up allocating $4.3 million in onetime funds — remnant revenues from the city’s recently abolished Redevelopment Agency and a refunded overcharge in property taxes — there were requests for $8 million. Few got everything they wanted; most walked away with something.