Brick crosswalks, bike lanes and other hot topics surrounding municipal infrastructure were on the minds of council candidates as they opined about how best to maintain the assets that make up the heart of Santa Barbara.
Infrastructure and how to pay for it are perennial topics on the city council dais and Noozhawk asked candidates for their ideas on how they'd like to see the city move forward.
The candidates running for city council in the Nov. 5 election weighed in to address deferred maintenance and where the money would come from to replace aging roads, sewers, water systems and the like.
Megan Diaz Alley, Cruzito Herrera Cruz, Gregg Hart, Frank Hotchkiss, Michael Jordan, Matthew Kramer, David Landecker, Jason Nelson, Bendy White and Lesley Wiscomb are vying for three open council seats. Hotchkiss and White are incumbents but must stand for re-election. Mail-in ballots went out to voters last week.
Many lamented Santa Barbara's loss of redevelopment agency funding, which was used in the past for downtown projects and maintenance, but was reclaimed by the state to help balance its own budget.
All of the candidates said they supported a policy to set aside money for capital improvements and maintenance money.
Hotchkiss said the city will never have all the funds needed to repair all its infrastructure, and "no city ever has."
"It takes a small bite of the apple every year to keep up, as we do now," he said.
Hart said Santa Barbara, like other local governments, has lost access to money once handed out by the state to invest in capital infrastructure.
As a result, he said, the city must develop a long-range strategy to increase investment in capital asset maintenance and improvements.
Because the issue is a difficult one, the community will need to talk about strategies, including how to boost city revenue.
"I would support establishing a broad-based citizen volunteer task force to tackle this issue and develop recommendations through a transparent public process," Hart said, adding that the first step would be identifying the most urgent needs and those that could be looked at over time.
Alley said improvement in transportation infrastructure is one of her highest priorities.
"Safe, walkable streets, bicycle corridors and, particularly, safe routes to school are of critical importance," she said, adding that Santa Barbara must invest now to prevent costly replacements in the future.
"We need to be sensible and mindful of what projects cost to build and repair," she said.
Among the examples of what Alley called "continued unwise spending" are the brick crosswalks that were installed at various locations around Santa Barbara.
"The bricks keep buckling under the stress of heavy automobile traffic and our Public Works employees are continuously directed to repair crosswalks," she said.
The city should look at the costs of constant repairs and come up with solutions that are equally attractive, but don't need continuous maintenance.
Cruz said he'd like to see an increase in budget allotments to the Parks and Recreation Department and public infrastructure, and to address Santa Barbara's millions of dollars of unfunded deferred maintenance and capital improvement projects.
Wiscomb said she didn't believe that asking residents and businesses to pay additional taxes for for maintenance costs is the answer, "unless it is their will."
"City Council has an obligation to make sure it’s doing everything reasonable to increase city revenues and operate as efficiently as possible before asking taxpayers to pay more," she said.
Maintenance and repairs should be prioritized based on public safety, she said, while also keeping in mind reducing future costs.
Landecker said the council already has a policy to put half its surplus into capital needs and the rest into reserves, which means nothing is left for more services.
He said Santa Barbara needs to be more active in Sacramento with the League of California Cities and that the city can’t count on another boom like the one in the late 1990s.
Kramer said that in Santa Barbara, streets are in good repair, but sidewalks are so bad they could present a liability to the city.
Nelson also took issue with the brick crosswalks, which "look awful," and said the city needs to analyze all the infrastructure issues in order of priority.
Some ideas Nelson has were consolidating the city's dispatch system with Santa Barbara County's to save money, as well as uniting the parks department in one building and leasing out any extra office space for additional revenue, which can go to maintenance costs.
White said he supports the city's current policy of applying half of any surplus it has toward infrastructure. He lamented the loss of the Redevelopment Agency, which hurt the city's maintenance funding stream, and said that Santa Barbara's tourism efforts often play into what the city does in terms of maintenance and beautification.
Jordan did not respond to Noozhawk's requests for comment.