With $88 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on the way, the Santa Barbara County supervisors voted to spend $7 million buying an Isla Vista property that will be used to provide housing for those experiencing homelessness and another $2 million to put the campaign to buy and preserve 100 acres of the San Marcos Foothills as open space over the top in time to meet its new June 9 deadline.
The Isla Vista property, if secured, could provide digs for more than 40 people. Without the $2 million infusion, the campaign to buy the San Marcos property would have been hard pressed to raise the $18-million-plus asking price. To date 4,500 individuals have made $17 million in total donations.
In addition, the supervisors authorized another $1.5 million — to be spent over three years — to augment their spending on behavioral wellness programs. Beyond that, the supervisors opted to reign in any extravagant impulses until sometime in October, at which point they will have been schooled in how to make their ARPA dollars matter most when it comes to emergency childcare programs, and likewise for leveraging this new infusion of federal cash to maximize the production of affordable housing. With home sale prices increasing by 83 percent in Santa Barbara County, Supervisor Das Williams described the cost of housing as “an existential crisis.”
Of the interest groups that lobbied the supervisors, none were as vigorous as the childcare advocates who argued the county’s economic recovery depended on a more robust childcare infrastructure. For every six toddlers, one speaker noted, there’s only one childcare space. Another noted four times as many women were put out of work during the pandemic — nationwide — than were men, reflecting how economically crucial reliable childcare is.
As the supervisors came to grips with all the different pots — restricted and discretionary being just two — from which this money will come, they realized members of the public — unschooled in the intricacies of public finance — could have trouble engaging meaningfully in the public process. To that end, they committed to spending $200,000 for a “navigation center” to help explain things. Supervisor Gregg Hart kept exclaiming what “an extraordinary moment” it was. Supervisor Steve Lavagnino exclaimed, “We’re going to do more than we’ve ever done in terms of taking care of business.” In the meantime, the supervisors will receive crash courses in childcare, affordable housing development, and the virtues of broadband expansion, especially in North County.