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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 1:45 am | Fair 45º


Santa Barbara Reapplying to Secure Ownership of Former RDA Properties

The City Council approves the plan that will be sent this week to the California Department of Finance

After being denied once, the City of Santa Barbara will reapply to take ownership of several former Redevleopment Agency properties.

The dissolution last year requires the city to create a Long-Range Property Management Plan that shows the proposed governmental uses. Assistant City Administrator Paul Casey presented the completed plan to the City Council on Tuesday, before it is sent to the California Department of Finance.

Properties still in limbo are the “tiny” parcels on Bath Street proposed for a pocket park, the Paseo Nuevo leasehold interest, the Railroad Depot and land planned for a Children’s Museum, and the Calle Cesar Chavez undeveloped land.

Santa Barbara has already transferred other RDA-owned lands — including the city parking lots, after a fight — and hopes to get the rest with this process.

The four Calle Cesar Chavez parcels would be sold, though. There are no plans for the land, though there are obligations for future property owners to keep the parking on the east end for Casa Esperanza employees and volunteers.

Councilman Grant House lamented that the city would lose its chance to connect the lower Eastside neighborhood to the waterfront by placing a street, a bike path or at least a walkway through those parcels.

People use the railroad tracks to walk through that area instead, which isn’t safe, he said.

Casey said the city has no plans for the land and didn’t pursue adding a road or bike path there in the 13 years it owned the land, so there wouldn’t be a strong case to keep it.

New legislation passed with the RDA dissolutions mandates that nongovernmental purpose assets be sold, which the city is trying to avoid with all the other properties.

The Department of Finance is expected to approve the transfer of Railroad Depot parcels easily, since the city is showing a transportation-related use with the depot itself, Greyhound building and supporting parking lots, Casey said.

There has been community support and planning approval for the parcels earmarked for a Children’s Museum, across the Union Pacific Railroad tracks from the depot, so Casey said he feels good about that one’s success as well.

The city is still working out a lease agreement with the nonprofit organization that would develop the museum, but the lease will not be a money-making enterprise, Casey said.

At Bath and Ortega streets, parcels were bought for the Mission Creek Flood Control Project and two “tiny little parcels” are leftover, which are “virtually undevelopable,” he said. It would be a pocket park with minimal design — maybe some play equipment and grass.

The former RDA also has a 75-year lease on the land under Paseo Nuevo, which Casey is trying to get transferred to the city.

“There’s essentially no revenue involved with holding a reversionary interest so we think it’s folly to sell this; there’s really no value to it and it’s in the best interest of the community to continue the relationship between the city and the owners and managers,” Casey said.

“As a landlord, you can control the property a great deal more than a seller who places covenants on the property,” City Attorney Steve Wiley noted.

So, the RDA decided to be a landlord of the shopping center to make sure it stayed well-maintained over the years.

The plan will go before the Department of Finance on Thursday, but the state has no firm deadlines on a response, Casey said.

City Council members unanimously approved the plan.

They also approved taking eminent domain action if no settlement can be reached with a property owner at 230 W. Cota St. The city is moving forward with the Cota Street Bridge Replacement Project and has been negotiating with the owner of the single-family residence, which is vacant, and expects to reach a settlement.

However, city staff members want the option for eminent domain action as a precaution so the timetable for the project isn’t impacted.

Principal engineer John Ewasiuk said the city already reached settlements with two neighboring properties — 536 Bath St. and 221 West Cota St. — and need the third one to begin work. The other two property owners settled for $600,000 and $660,000, respectively, according to a staff report.

The $9.5 million bridge replacement will probably cause damage to the homes because of their proximity to the existing bridge and proposed walls, he said.

After the project, the homes will be sold with the proceeds going to future bridge projects, which is the same process used for past bridge replacements.

“This may seem like a drastic action for the city to take,” Councilwoman Cathy Murillo said, “but it’s definitely necessary for flooding and the natural environment.”

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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