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Supervisors Put Emergency Center Project Out to Bid

The board says the operations facility is a priority, but some members question the timing of spending $5 million to build it

The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors put its proposed Emergency Operations Center project out to bid after much debate on Tuesday.

There was a distinct split among the dais about allocating $5 million in general fund money to the project. The EOC would be a hub for emergency operations personnel and decision-makers during disasters. The 9,900-square-foot facility would include a “robust” computer room, year-round offices for the Office of Emergency Services and showers.

The EOC is expected to come with about $80,000 in annual building operating costs.

Amid tight financial times for the county, some supervisors questioned using general fund money for the project. While the entire board saw the project as a public safety priority, its timing was questioned by Supervisors Salud Carbajal and Doreen Farr.

After visiting the temporary EOC for the past five local fires, it became apparent to Carbajal that the dissemination of information was been the biggest failure, he said, but adding that no building can help with that.

Supervisors Joni Gray and Janet Wolf said the project was essential and timely.

The project is expected to stimulate the local economy and create about 55 local jobs.

The community funding assistance is “frosting on the cake,” Gray said.

“I feel like I’m tied in the middle of a railroad track with two locomotives coming at me,” board chairman Joseph Centeno said of the debate between the two sides of the dais.

The project was passed to go to bid unanimously, but reluctantly.

Farr voted “aye,” but said she was more concerned with keeping jobs than creating them.

“See how easy that was?” Centeno joked after the long discussion.

The project wouldn’t take any money from the county’s operating budget, since the $5 million has been saved up over the years for the project. The rest of the money, about 25 percent of the total project budget, would come from local philanthropic groups.

Paul Orfalea’s foundation is among the organizations, and he urged the board to put the project up for bid. However, he more than hinted that the offer has an expiration date rapidly approaching.

“I don’t think we’re gonna keep the offer for funding on the table for an indefinite amount of time,” he said.

Asked when the window of opportunity would close, he said he didn’t know.

The offer has been around for about 15 years, since grand juries began looking at the necessity of an EOC, and Orfalea is beginning to have “a real ADD issue” with the long process.

The board will continue its discussion of the EOC after bids have been received.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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