The announcement Wednesday morning that Goleta received $14 million to complete a path through Old Town to the beach just proved a point raised the night before: The city has been paying a lot of attention to Old Town; what would an extra property tax add? If that were the question before the council, and it was not, the public’s answer was: the potential to become downtown Santa Barbara. And that was not considered to be a good thing.
The proposition before the City Council on Tuesday evening was whether to give $25,000 to study a Property Business Improvement District (PBID) for Old Town. The area had been the city’s downtown back when Hollister Road was the highway, and improvements were a high priority for residents in a survey the city conducted last year. Simultaneously, the Goleta Chamber of Commerce had been working out how to fund the need for cleaner streets and sidewalks, landscaping, and more parking. But few at Tuesday’s meeting supported the chamber, which has become inextricably linked with the explosive growth in Goleta.
The majority who had sent emails and came to comment expressed their love for Old Town the way it is and a fear that a PBID would lead to the unintended consequence of higher rents driving out current business tenants. Most acknowledged that some brainstorming on how to improve Old Town was in order, but a PBID was not the way to do it. Residents needed to be consulted, not just the property owners who would pay the tax. Worse yet, they said, larger property owners got a bigger vote, which felt unfair to smaller property owners.
In practically one breath, speaker George Relles made the case that Old Town was facing a multitude of changes: control of the flooding from San Jose Creek, a new park named after city mother Jonny Wallis, new sidewalks, acquisition of parking areas, an upcoming bicycle master plan [the $14 million was for a piece of the San Jose Creek walk/bike pathway], a renovated Community Center, roundabouts at Hollister and the 217, not to mention cannabis retail stores and an overall rezoning of the city. Perhaps the city needed to pause to see what the combined effects of the projects would be before embarking on another one, Relles suggested.
For the most part, the councilmembers couldn’t help but agree. Councilmember Kyle Richards, who lives in Old Town, wondered what the ultimate goal of a PBID would be, concluding that it was likely an increase in property values, and then rents, which contradicted any goal of improvement, as he understood it. The even more fundamental question, Councilmember Stuart Kasdin observed, was that before reaching a PBID proposal, they needed to determine what Old Town goals they wanted an assessment district to be paying for.
The council decided unanimously to send the question to its Economic Development committee, on which Kasdin and Councilmember James Kyriaco, an Old Town resident, sit, as well as a look into what other assessment mechanisms might be out there. The Goleta Chamber’s proposal was put on pause in the meantime, heeding community sentiment, summarized by Relles: “You can love Old Town, just don’t love it to death.”