As 2011 comes to a close, I want to wish Santa Barbara residents a joyous and safe holiday season. The end of each year gives us all the opportunity to reflect on the past 12 months and focus on future goals, and life at City Hall is no different.
As I reflect on my work in local government, I note how the tone lately on a national level has been filled with political gridlock and standstills. I personally find it very frustrating when good policy is being trumped by partisan politics, and hope we as a nation can move beyond the negative rhetoric and toward positive solutions.
Staying positive in the face of adversity is not easy. I find that in public office, so long as people are willing to listen, to treat each other and their elected positions with respect, to acknowledge various viewpoints and to focus on policy without making it personal, it’s amazing what you can accomplish, and find common ground without compromising your core values. This is how I view my role as mayor of Santa Barbara, especially when there are significant diverse opinions from those on the dais.
I was pleasantly surprised a number of times this year when the City Council voted unanimously on some major policy issues. This year there were 7-0 votes for the following:
» 1. Expanding the restorative policing program, including hiring new community services liaisons and homeless outreach workers that focus on getting homeless people off the streets toward housing and social services.
» 2. Funding up to $75,000 toward the creation of a regional homeless prevention coordinator.
» 3. Keeping the Rental Housing Mediation Task Force off the chopping block through the end of the fiscal year, thanks in large part to the task force members who found new funding toward this valuable regional service.
» 4. Restriping Cliff Drive, a Caltrans state highway, from four traffic lanes to two traffic lanes, a left-turn lane and two bicycle lanes.
» 5. And perhaps most importantly, adopting the General Plan Update — after six years of meetings and negotiations — that will revise the zoning ordinance that currently allows for large bulky buildings and luxury condos, and instead incentivize smaller units, workforce housing and rental housing.
Other significant citywide accomplishments in 2011 include:
» 6. Opening the Santa Barbara Airport’s new airline terminal, with the final restoration of the historic terminal building under way. This project created more than 300 jobs to the local economy.
» 7. Restoring the historic Carrillo Recreation Center, which houses a large number of infant, youth and senior recreational programs.
» 8. Adding to our affordable housing inventory through the Artisan Court project on East Cota Street, which includes apartments and services specifically for youth aging out of the foster care system.
» 9. Completing a huge countywide homeless count with more than 500 volunteers surveying and creating a Vulnerability Index to prevent further deaths on our streets. Since the VI results came out last May, more than 90 homeless people are now off the streets countywide.
» 10. Construction of a new seismically safe bridge at De la Vina and Haley streets that also allows for increased flood control and endangered species protection. Street lighting throughout the West Downtown neighborhood is now being added.
» 11. New flood control and additional creek restoration with the Army Corps of Engineers at Lower Mission Creek and Cabrillo Boulevard.
Of course, we still face a number of challenges that cannot be ignored. While the local economy has improved, our budget is still in a structural deficit of about $3 million. There are significant pedestrian safety concerns along in the Milpas corridor that need to be addressed in the wake of the terrible tragedy surrounding Sergio Romero’s death last October. We need to find funding to increase park maintenance and reopen the city libraries on Mondays.
And I acknowledge the number of media stories and incidents related to our Police Department that need investigation, clarification and communication back to our community. On that topic, while unfortunately I cannot legally divulge many details related to current investigations, I do want to thank everyone who has contacted my office and let you know that I take your comments very seriously and am in constant communication with the police chief and city administrator. I hope that future regular public hearing updates from the police chief to the City Council will both shed light where we can and give our residents important information about much of the excellent work that does occur within the department for our public safety.
Finally, I want to congratulate Councilmen Dale Francisco and Randy Rowse on their re-election this year, welcome Councilwoman-elect Cathy Murillo to City Hall, and thank and acknowledge Councilwoman Michael Self’s service to the City of Santa Barbara. Self‘s work and commitment to Santa Barbara was sincere and genuine, and I appreciated our positive working relationship whether we agreed on a particular policy or not.
Please join me at 2 p.m. Jan. 10 for the installation of council members at City Hall; a day that will start a new year where we can set our vision and move forward on the policies and values we all hold dear. Happy holidays.
— Helene Schneider is mayor of Santa Barbara.