Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez made the case for a garage for the Library on the Go vans, saying they added a sense of normality and hope to the families and children they served, as the Santa Barbara City Council divvied up American Rescue Funds among city services. | Credit: City TV

In divvying up federal stimulus money to fight a pandemic-induced financial shortage, Santa Barbara city councilmembers learned on Tuesday they had close to an extra million bucks to spend. A misunderstanding of what each deep cleaning of the downtown promenade would cost, as presented to the Finance Committee last week, dropped that sum from $1.25 million to $350,000, putting another $900,000 on the table.

Altogether, the council had $10.9 million to spend on the city from President Biden’s American Rescue Plan in the face of an $8 million shortfall for 2022. The city had put the first half of the rescue funds — totalling $21.8 million over two years — into its general fund in order to continue programs and services as revenues shrank dramatically. The City Council split the second half among specific programs, hashing out the details on Tuesday.

From the newly found funds, the council put another $250,000 toward a co-response team — for a total of a half-million — and also more “hero pay” for city workers who’ve been on the job since the pandemic broke out. Originally $2.25 million at the beginning of the meeting, it was $2.5 million by the end, giving up to $3,000 for employees working since March 2020. All the councilmembers were in favor of the onetime pandemic bonus, with Councilmember Meagan Harmon saying, “City employees stepped up, and city services continued through the pandemic, all thanks to them.”

The council also agreed to fund $1.4 million to public libraries, a portion of which will go toward providing a garage for the Library on the Go vans. Several questioned why the vans needed a garage, to which Alejandra Gutierrez — councilmember for the Eastside, where the library vans are to be housed — explained that it might sound like just a garage, but the mobile van gives library access to families and kids, some of whom are homeless. “Having a garage secures the mobile library and its materials,” she said. “It’s going to keep the mobile libraries safe that go out to the communities and give a sense of normality and hope to families and children.” The council also agreed to fund $650,000 to the libraries so they could stay open seven days a week, especially important on the Eastside, where the library serves Adelante school.

Also new was $100,000 for the Eastside community garden, suggested by Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, hoping to encourage more community gardens. 

Most of the remaining funds were allocated as the Finance Committee had suggested the week before, with the rest going into the General Fund, or just over $1 million. Finance Director Keith DeMartini recounted that the city had started fiscal 2022 with an $8 million deficit that was balanced by creating $6.8 million through vacant jobs and other cuts, plus taking $1 million from reserves. Though higher bed and sales taxes projected a $6.5 million surplus, he noted that still didn’t cover the deficit or the ones anticipated for the next three years.

All those details will be part of the budget talks that begin Thursday. Also included, several councilmembers agreed, would be a discussion of business areas other than State Street, which Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez had pointed out were also in need of funding and support.

Other allocations included $1.18 million to backfill parking division funding, $1.27 million to parks, $1.2 million for homeless and mental-health services, $250,000 for improved online services at planning, $450,000 for a compensation study, and $200,000 for a program that Mayor Randy Rowse asked to be called something other than “rent control” — “Let’s take that piece of semantics out of there,” he said, warning that the “valkyries” would otherwise descend. Now dubbed “rental housing outreach,” the funds will hire a consultant to develop the program.

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