The Goleta City Council will be forming a special committee to discuss future revitalization plans for Old Town, considering the challenges to helping the area now that the Redevelopment Agency has been dissolved.
The loss has “left the City of Goleta without a tool to address the challenges and needs for Old Town,” said Vyto Adomaitis, director of Neighborhood Services and Public Safety.
The RDA was created by Santa Barbara County in 1998 — before the city’s incorporation — and with it, a Revitalization Plan for Old Town. Jamie Valdez, the city’s economic development coordinator, said the project area included three distinct parts: the “west wing” near the Santa Barbara Airport; the Old Town core, between Fairview Avenue and Highway 217; and the “east wing” near Goleta Valley Cottage Hospital.
Goleta’s RDA has been mainly working on San Jose Creek channel improvements, the Ekwill Street and Fowler Road extensions, and the Hollister Avenue redesign since incorporation, but there’s still a lot to do for each project, Public Works director Steve Wagner said.
The creek improvements — to prevent flooding — are halfway done with the first phase of construction, which will be followed by replacing the Hollister Avenue bridge over the creek.
The Fowler Road extensions are in the final design and permitting stage, and a Hollister Redesign project has not gone beyond a concept plan or been funded at all. The idea was to reconstruct the corridor to be more welcoming to pedestrians and bicyclists with wider sidewalks and bike lanes.
Now, the city will have to look at block grants, federal funding available, taxes, fees or additional special districts that can be assessed for infrastructure project funds, Adomaitis said. There is a lot more competition for grants and outside funding sources now that every RDA in the state was eliminated, he noted.
Mayor Roger Aceves suggested forming a special two-member committee to discuss the future of revitalizing Old Town, which other council members unanimously supported.
Just because the RDA has gone away doesn’t mean there can’t be any revitalization plans for Old Town, Aceves said, adding that the city needs to recertify what it wants in the downtown corridor then go find the funding.
Past efforts for revitalization focused on storefront façade improvements, a housing revitalization program and financial support for Sumida Gardens, a 200-unit workforce housing project.
Members of the public urged the council to stay focused on a plan for Old Town.
Julie Crookston, owner of Goodland Kitchen and Market, said she decided to open up the café once she saw how many people walked around Old Town during lunchtime. There’s a lot of foot traffic, helped by the high-tech businesses in the area, she said.
“People come to Old Town because it’s real, it’s authentic,” Crookston said.
Resident Ben Werner said a more pedestrian-friendly area could benefit business activity. Werner is one of the creators of the Pop-Up Patio idea that won a $500 city grant at a community workshop. He said there are many others who share his enthusiasm and want to get involved to help.
Old Town is also very important to the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce, president Kristen Miller said, adding that the chamber wants to help with outreach and be included in the conversation for revitalization plans.
“People want a downtown they can recognize and feel welcome in,” she said.
Council members voted unanimously to create a committee to discuss the issue, which will come back officially in two weeks.