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McElroy Gets Official OK as New Santa Barbara Fire Chief

The council also approves the transfer of 10 parking lots and structures from the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency to the city

The Santa Barbara City Council welcomed new Fire Chief Pat McElroy officially Tuesday, as members unanimously approved his appointment to replace retired Chief Andy DiMizio.

McElroy has worked with the city Fire Department for 32 years, most recently as fire operations division chief.

He said he has always been so impressed with the calmness and professionalism of the department’s firefighters — most recently with fires on TV Hill and the vacant building at 530 Chapala St.

The department plans to hire eight new firefighters, McElroy said, and he was “struck by the quality of the people who want to come work here.”

Many of the recent hires have been lateral moves — people who are already working as firefighters, usually in other areas — since the department has lost so many people to retirements lately.

“We’ve lost a significant part of the department over the last four or five years, and with that goes hundreds of years of experience,” he said.

However, McElroy hopes to start hiring more locals in the future.

As fire chief, McElroy will oversee the department’s $22 million budget and 110 employees in eight fire stations.

He plans to examine all the department’s programs — using the strategic plan as a guide — and cooperate better with other city departments.

He lives in Santa Barbara with his wife, Bonnie Kerwin, and children Darcy, Brendan and Duffy.

The City Council also approved the transfer of 10 city parking lots and structures from the now-defunct Redevelopment Agency to the city, which is the RDA’s successor agency. There was pushback on the transfers from the state, which initially argued the lots weren’t used for governmental purpose.

“For the public, this is really, really, really important, and for the businesses too,” City Councilman Grant House said.

The lots now provide low-cost parking for the public, which enhances the downtown experience and makes it easier for people to just park once and enjoy the State Street corridor, he said.

With those transfers done, Assistant City Administrator Paul Casey and his staff are working on a property-management plan to get the rest of the RDA properties transferred to the city, including the railroad depot and neighboring parcels, a Bath Street property approved for a 0.08-acre park, and a vacant Calle Cesar Chavez property.

The state gave Santa Barbara leaders “the wink and the nod,” but Casey and his team are putting together a strong proposal, he said.

There are plans already in motion to develop the small park – which has been approved by the Planning Commission and successor agency oversight board – and to develop a children’s museum on land near the railroad depot.

From the most recent conversations with the state, Casey said, it seems that transferring the rest of the former RDA properties to the city won’t be a problem.

The property management plan also will deal with the land beneath Paseo Nuevo. Nothing will change, but the city will have to work its way through a lot of bureaucratic paperwork since the land was owned by the RDA, Mayor Helene Schneider said.

The stores have pre-paid, 75-year leases that started in 1989, city attorney Steve Wiley said.

The city will pursue selling off the 2.4-acre property at 125 S. Calle Cesar Chavez, which is zoned for industrial use and has been vacant since being purchased. There is high demand for industrial space, so the land has value, Casey said.

The Santa Barbara Unified School District has been interested in the property since the city RDA purchased it in 2001, but negotiations and closed-session meetings between the two parties never amounted to anything.

The city is willing to sell or lease the property at market value, but the district doesn’t have the money to buy it.

Former Superintendent Brian Sarvis hoped to move the district’s outdated maintenance and operations facility to the land, and then use the current site – near the administration complex on Santa Barbara Street – for educational purposes.

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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