Thanks to overwhelming community outcry and support from the Santa Barbara County supervisors, the Isla Vista Neighborhood Clinic building will not be sold — at least for now — and will continue to provide medical services to that community.
The county supervisors decided unanimously Tuesday ask the state Department of Finance to allow the county to keep the building, which they say is being used for a government purpose, instead of being forced to sell it.
The clinic sits on the former site of St. Athanasius church with a parking lot, at 970 and 881 Embarcadero Del Norte in Isla Vista.
Because the state has dissolved its redevelopment area zones, many of the buildings within them were left in limbo. The county was asked to prove that the facilities were for government use or be forced to sell the properties.
The Isla Vista Neighborhood Clinic is the only public health clinic in the community of 22,000 people, and dozens of residents came out to protest the sale of the building, which would have forced the clinic to move elsewhere.
One option put forward Tuesday was that the existing buildings be demolished and that the area be turned into an extension of Anisq "Oyo" Park. The costs to do that would come to $1.1 million, and yearly ongoing maintenance of the park would amount to $25,000.
Staff recommended that they be sold and the proceeds be used to pay down existing debt, and recent appraisals had placed the value at $2.4 million for the church, and $1.65 million for the medical clinic.
Some of the discussion revolved around the City of Santa Barbara's lobbying for some of the buildings within their RDA zone. A children's museum had been slated for one such area, but the dissolution of the RDA zone left that project in limbo until city officials made the argument that the state should allow them to keep it.
"If Santa Barbara can have a children's museum, I think Santa Barbara County can make the case that we need to keep a medical clinic in an area that is seeing high poverty rates," Supervisor Janet Wolf said.
Brian Knowles, a Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics board member, said the clinics were going through a serious financial crisis the last time the item came before supervisors, but that the outlook is looking brighter now. Since then, they have received significant funding, he said, and hired Trula Ann Breuninger as their new interim CEO.
"We know we have a lot of work to do to right the ship … but the future is looking much brighter for the neighborhood clinics," Knowles said.
The clinic sees 1,100 patients a month, many of whom come under a county contract for homeless care, he said.
If the clinic goes away, "the community will lose its only medical center," and that the neighborhood clinic has not been able to find a similar location in Isla Vista to operate.
With the Affordable Care Act rolling out next year, "most communities are rising to the challenge and increasing capacity," Knowles said. "This would not be the case if this clinic closes."
Considering the density and population numbers of the area, one speaker after another said that the lack of services was a problem.
Resident Anna Sifuentes, who spoke through an interpreter, said many families in Isla Vista depend on the clinic.
Using the church as a community center also seemed to be a priority to speakers.
"Selling the clinic building is just not in the best interest of the county," Supervisor Doreen Farr said. "The health and well-being of Isla Vista's residents depends on this."
A county report released last week documents Isla Vista as one of four areas in the county experiencing high poverty.
Any loss of services "would greatly exacerbate" the situation, Farr said, adding that the community had been long underserved.
The population in Isla Vista is heavily transit dependent, and bus connections to get from Isla Vista to the county clinic are tedious and time consuming, she said.
"We just can't lose the neighborhood clinic," Farr said, adding that she's willing to go to Sacramento to go argue before lawmakers to allow the county to keep the building.
The building has a fair amount of deferred maintenance, and Supervisor Peter Adam expressed concern about keeping an asset that needed significant repairs done, but eventually voted in favor of keeping the buildings.
Wolf said she believed they could make a "strong case" that the county should be able to keep the properties for its use.
"I will go with you to Sacramento," she told Farr. "As we move forward with the Affordable Care Act … it is our county responsibility to maintain that property."
Supervisor Steve Lavagnino called it "shortsighted" to sell the buildings with ACA laws looming and more people will have access to health care.
The board voted 4-0 to keep the clinic building, with Supervisor Salud Carbajal recusing himself because his wife is a former employee of the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinics.
The board voted 5-0 to retain the area's parking lot and 4-1 to retain the church building, with Lavagnino abstaining.