With Governor Jerry Brown proposing to do away with the state’s nearly 60-year-old redevelopment agency funding system — whereby jurisdictions can get a cut of property taxes to fix up blighted neighborhoods — cities around California are scrambling to spend their dough before the budget ax falls. But in Goleta, a young city whose Redevelopment Agency (RDA) has plenty of critical work on the immediate horizon, the governor’s gutting would spell certain disaster and trap the Old Town area in its problematic, flood-prone past.
So says Vyto Adomaitis, the City of Goleta’s director of redevelopment, neighborhood services, and public safety. “When you look at Santa Barbara and the community it has become over the years, a big part of that is because of redevelopment,” he explained of his city’s neighbor, where the Paseo Nuevo mall, parking lots, and State Street enhancements were all made possible with RDA monies. “We would like the opportunity to improve our community, too.”
For Goleta’s redevelopment zone — which was created by the County of Santa Barbara in 1998, includes 1,006 parcels, and covers 595 acres along Hollister Avenue roughly between Highway 217 and Fairview Avenue — the “flagship project” is a $25-million flood-channel improvement for San Jose Creek, $14 million of which comes from RDA funds. By drying up the threat of flooding for Old Town, which was mostly underwater during the storms of 1995 and 1998, property owners in the area could once again get proper insurance and be encouraged to redevelop their businesses. If the governor’s proposal goes through, said Adomaitas, “That project would not happen.”
Additionally, the city was planning to use RDA funds to improve traffic circulation on Hollister; build connections for Ekwill and Fowler roads to Fairview that will open up the ocean-side blocks of Old Town and allow for street festivals on Hollister; and build parking structures to foster more business activity in the area. And Adomaitas is quick to remind that plenty of critical RDA work has already been done in Old Town, including improvements on 37 homes, refurbishments to 49 storefronts, and the building of Sumida Gardens, a 200-unit apartment complex with 34 affordable units. “It’s not a very large area, but these monies and these projects are needed to make Old Town a better place to live and do business in,” said Adomaitas, who understands complaints that other RDAs across the state might be using their money for more frivolous projects like theaters, but maintains that Goleta’s are all of the nuts-and-bolts variety.
So how likely is it that Brown’s RDA slashing — which would only backfill about $1.7 billion of the state’s $25-billion budget shortfall and be specifically spent on underfunded MediCal and court services — will come to pass? “That’s the $25,000 question,” said Adomaitas. “It’s of great concern to me, and I don’t think it’s a bluff.” Based on the actions of places like Long Beach (where the city is quickly trying to spend nearly $1.2 billion in RDA monies), Los Angeles (a $930-million spending scramble), and San Mateo ($34 million at stake), the fear is very real — although the actual details of RDA death remain a mystery, because the proposed legislation has not yet been made public, leaving plenty of constitutional and legal questions to linger.
While Goleta’s flood project is the immediate concern, RDA proponents like Adomaitas are really scared of what these cuts would mean in the long term. “What happens next year if you take out an economic engine that helps create investment opportunities, redevelops properties in need of help, builds affordable housing, and creates jobs? What will take the place of this tool?” he asked. “The answer is nothing. … If we lose the redevelopment funds for Goleta, it will be devastating to Old Town.”
To further emphasize this dire situation, the City of Goleta is hosting a press conference at 10 a.m. on Friday morning at the Goleta Valley Community Center with speakers from the private and public sectors. The public is invited to attend.