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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 1:10 pm | Fair 66º

 
 
 
 

Santa Barbara Council Gives Go-Ahead for Central Library Improvements

Councilwoman Michael Self takes issue with the cost, which could run as high as $2 million, but other officials say the benefits will be worth it

The Santa Barbara City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to move ahead with improvements to the courtyard at the Central Library, 40 E. Anapamu St.

City officials said they’re hopeful the changes will take the run-down niche often used by panhandlers and improve community use in the area.

“The concept envisions removal of walls to make the area level,” according to the project’s staff report, and changes to the area would be similar to the Jardin de las Granadas, the open space across from the downtown library. City staff said they hope the changes will result in increased public safety, more community use and revenue generation for the library. Reduced maintenance costs also could result, as well as a public space for art.

The project raised some eyebrows when city staff estimated that the costs for the project could reach $2 million, depending on the final design and the construction bids. But Brian Bosse, the city’s Housing and Redevelopment director, said $2 million was a high estimate and that it most likely would be $1 million to $1.5 million.

That money will come from the city’s Redevelopment Agency fund, which can only be used for capital improvement projects within the city’s redevelopment area. But because Gov. Jerry Brown has threatened to eliminate redevelopment agency programs across the state in an effort to deal with the budget woes, those funds could evaporate.

Bosse said a loan would be additional security for the project should the RDA monies disappear. “It is a security measure,” he said.

The city awarded the bid for the project to Campbell & Campbell Architects after interviewing five companies for the job. While $150,000 was approved last year for the renovations, an additional $68,478 was approved Tuesday to start the process.

Eric Friedman, who serves on the library board, said parents have expressed safety concerns after entering the library with children. He said that with the library’s lower level being renovated into a children’s floor, safety is a big concern.

“I don’t think this is a homeless issue; I think this is a criminality issue,” said Jeremy Tessmer, director of nearby Sullivan Goss. Tessmer said there have been four attacks inside the gallery since 2006, but that he doesn’t see the same problems when he walks by the Jardin de las Granadas.

The library, itself a historic building, was last renovated in the late 1970s, and library director Irene Macias said she has heard complaints over the years about the area, and that the Parks & Recreation Department has been unable to maintain the area as much as it used to. She said creating an outdoor space that could even be rented out and used for events is in the library’s best interest.

All of the council members agreed the project should move forward, except Councilwoman Michael Self, who took issue with the cost.

“The common thread is that we’re spending too much money,” she said. “Our state is broke. If this money goes back. ... You need to sometimes look at the big picture.”

But Councilman Dale Francisco said the project “exactly fits” the RDA’s mission to get rid of blight and improve economic and cultural vitality.

“If this project is done right, it will more than return the money we put into it,” he said.

Councilman Randy Rowse agreed, calling the project a “mini-stimulus” for the community.

Because the RDA money can’t be used for other library needs, such as keeping it open on Mondays, Mayor Helene Schneider said there had been a lot of confusion about the funding.

“We really need to do a better job up front on what the issue is,” she said. “Even though we know, we need to tell the public so that they have full information.”

As the design process progresses and the public gives insight about the needs of the plaza, she said the project might not need the full amount of funding.

“It’s a ceiling, and we might not even come close to that,” Schneider said. “It all depends on the feedback that we get from the community.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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