Goleta has been slowly adding parking and sidewalks to Old Town as well as alleviating the flooding that comes from San Jose Creek (the flooding from San Pedro Creek at Fairview is another matter), but a property tax is being proposed to take other small steps forward. The City Council has a Property Business Improvement District (PBID) on the agenda for Tuesday evening, and as in any tax, opposing sides are forming.
The Goleta Chamber of Commerce has been working with a contractor, Civitas, to find a way to improve Old Town over the past three years. It’s willing to put up $31,000 to fund a study and outreach to get the ball rolling on a PBID, including more in-depth surveys of the Old Town community to learn what improvements the property owners — who will pay the tax — believe are necessary. The city staff report indicates about 25 percent of properties are currently owner-occupied. The contract would require the city to chip in $25,000.
Old Town’s potential assessment zone was mapped during the chamber’s early research. The area, which Goleta Chamber President Kristen Miller emphasized has not been determined for the actual PBID, could go from about Fairview to Patterson, and from the railroad tracks to the industrial areas south of Hollister Avenue, encompassing about 340 properties. Only business properties would be in the PBID, including multi-unit rental complexes. The city staff report states the conversation thus far has been about “clean and safe activities; marketing, business development, and economic development activities; and parking solutions.”
“We want to return Old Town to being the downtown of Goleta,” Miller said. “We’re not looking for a certain look, but the feeling of a place to gather that historically has been the feel of a downtown.” For some cities, she described, that means small stores close together, sidewalks, outdoor cafés, narrower streets that are easily crossed, a similarity of signage, and holiday lights. “Everyone we talked with or surveyed asked for extra cleaning, extra landscaping, extra parking — although the city is doing a great job at getting more parking,” she added.
“That’s already being done,” said Tom Madugno, a lifelong Goleta resident and owner of Santa Cruz Market in Old Town, of some projects the chamber envisions. Old Town’s sidewalks are power-washed by the city, though Modugno washes his market’s walkways more frequently. Community cleanups are spearheaded by the Goleta Old Town Community Association, as well as a holiday parade, Halloween event, concerts at the community center gazebo, and a restaurant-promotion event called Taste. “These draw customers to Old Town merchants,” said Phebe Mansur, executive director of the Old Town association, “and they also create a renewed sense of pride in the residents who live here.” The nonprofit monitors graffiti and removes it for free, she said, and holds trash and weed abatements once a month, entirely with volunteers.
Modugno objected that the chamber was an outside group that wanted to take charge of the community. In a letter to Goleta’s council, he listed eight directors on the chamber’s 28-member board who were from groups connected to development or associated with large hotels; one was an employee of Plains All-American Pipeline: “[Y]ou have to wonder if they care at all about the quality of life in Goleta, or just making it more profitable.”
“I don’t trust the chamber at all,” he told the Independent bluntly. “What’s happened to west Goleta in the past few years was not for the better, in my opinion,” Modugno said of the Westar/Hollister Village complex. “In all those projects, the chamber was the number one supporter. They never said no to any development.”
Regarding the proceeds from the PBID, “They’ll collect the money; they get to decide what to do with it,” Modugno worried about the Goleta Chamber. “The money is collected from landlords. You know how that’ll end,” speaking of the likelihood that rents would increase. He stressed in his letter how few empty storefronts were in the Old Town retail zone, unlike Santa Barbara’s State Street: “The reason Old Town is thriving today is because it’s the last place an individual can afford the rent to open a new business. The American Dream still lives in Old Town.”
Jean Blois, who chairs the board for the Old Town association and presided over the chamber in 1997, struck a middle ground. The former councilmember recalled that the chamber started in Old Town, “when Old Town was the only thing in Goleta. … It evolved from a small, little business organization to a strong, viable association that handles Deckers, UCSB startups,” she said. The Old Town association was started because the neighborhood has “quite a different set of problems from these big, big businesses,” she said. Blois thought the PBID details were still “very sketchy” and said the association had voted to support the feasibility study.
The chamber’s Kristen Miller acknowledged the concerns others have raised: “There’s fear, doom, and panic out there about Tuesday,” she said. “But we all have to write this [proposal] together, agree on it, and vote on it.” The request to fund the PBID study goes before the City Council at 6 p.m. on February 5 at City Hall (130 Cremona Dr. #B).