Assemblymember Das Williams introduced a bill that would prevent the California National Guard from selling Santa Barbara’s downtown armory until July 2017; it would also grant the City of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara Unified School District the right of first refusal in the intervening years.
Williams said he first got wind that the National Guard hoped to sell the armory earlier this year; legislation passed last year to authorize the sale of up to eight facilities statewide. Williams claimed no one from the National Guard ever contacted his office, the school district, or Santa Barbara city officials explaining their intent. Williams said officials had been inquiring about the armory — located between Santa Barbara High School and Junior High School — for the past 20 years and complained that they’d all been “blindsided” by the sale news. “I have made my anger very clear to the governor’s office,” Williams stated.
The armory, built in 1935, occupies 4.5 acres of prime downtown real estate, but is not currently zoned to allow commercial development. Instead, it’s zoned to allow single-family housing and recreational uses. Williams said it’s too soon to say how much the armory and the land is worth or where the funds would come from to buy it. But he agreed with community activists Todd Capps and Lanny Ebenstein — who has long urged City Hall or the school district to secure the property — that the armory property could be used to dramatically expand the active recreational opportunities available to Santa Barbarans.
Currently, the armory is used as practice and play space for community volleyball teams, and occasionally as the venue for fundraising events hosted by military support organizations. Many years ago, the armory was used to fold parachutes, but it hasn’t seen military duty for decades.
Editor’s Note: This story was revised to state Williams learned of the armory sales this year, not last year, which is when the bill passed.