As a lifelong resident of Santa Barbara’s Eastside where I was born, I am very concerned with what happens in our community. I have long advocated for progressive and positive change in Santa Barbara, which led me to become a member of the District Elections Committee and serve as a plaintiff in the recent successful case to bring district elections to Santa Barbara. I have also been very involved in local school and safety issues city- and countywide. My children are proudly attending Eastside public schools, as I did growing up in this neighborhood.
As a result of this background and involvement in the Eastside community, I am very supportive of efforts to improve our area. However, I do not, at this time, endorse the proposal to create an Eastside Business Improvement District (EBID). Why? Because a business improvement district should be implemented after district elections this November, not before. I also believe that all businesses should be allowed the honor and respect they deserve in the development of any process that could support their own neighborhood-based business.
I completely support the community efforts to clean up graffiti, improve conditions that businesses face, and establish more community spirit and activities on the Eastside. I regularly participate in such activities myself. I appreciate that the Milpas Community Association (MCA) has been caring for our neighborhood and has been doing so because the Eastside has been underrepresented for decades. I know how difficult it has been to advocate for services on the Eastside with an at-large city council structure. I could understand why the MCA felt the need to start this EBID process in 2013.
However, the recent court case resulting in implementation of district elections has changed everything. Starting this November, Eastside residents will be able to choose their own representative to serve on the Santa Barbara City Council. This is an opportunity for proper representation that residents and businesses have not had in more than 45 years. This is an opportunity for the MCA to withdraw its support of the current EBID proposal. In doing so, the MCA would allow all stakeholders the opportunity to build a vision for this new district together. The process would include businesses in support of the EBID, those in opposition to it, the new councilmember, our city police, our schools, and neighborhood residents.
Currently, hundreds of business owners on the Eastside are feeling disenfranchised by the MCA because they were not asked to help develop the current EBID. They do have concerns about their community but weren’t engaged in the planning process. Many of their concerns could be met through their new representative on the City Council without the need to impose mandated assessment fees, which would be hundreds of dollars per year for many businesses. One example is public safety. Police services should be shaped by the new Eastside representative, not an EBID that currently calls for hiring private security to patrol the area.
For all these reasons, it makes sense to consider a new business district after this November’s election, not before. District elections provide a fresh start for Santa Barbara. Each neighborhood of the city will have its own representative to address the issues that are of most concern to it. Now is the time for all of us to come together and not the time to implement a new business district covering one-third of Santa Barbara’s Eastside.
I certainly want the Eastside to be the best community it can be. Waiting for our new district to develop before imposing a business district over it would be the best way to move forward at this time. I respectfully suggest that the MCA withdraw the EBID and initiate a more inclusive process that builds unity in our new council district. By allowing for a more inclusive process, the MCA would honor the concerns of all of the diverse small businesses in our new district.