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Santa Barbara May Use Community Development Block Grants for Infrastructure

Amid increasing budget pressures, officials look to take care of city's own street maintenance and sidewalk in-fill needs first

The Santa Barbara City Council is again accepting applications for Community Development Block Grant funding, but the loss of the city’s Redevelopment Agency and underfunded infrastructure may cause officials to give priority to the municipality’s own capital projects in the future.

Each year, the city gets Housing and Urban Development Department funding, and allocates the Community Development Block Grant monies to human-services programs and capital projects proposed by both the city and local nonprofit organizations.

Santa Barbara allocates money from its General Fund and up to 15 percent of the CDBG money for public/human-services programs, with the rest of the CDBG money destined for “brick-and-mortar” capital projects.

At a meeting last month, council members said they would consider using more, if not all, CDBG capital funds — not public/human service funds — for municipal projects either next year or the year after.

There have been many concerns about pedestrian safety and traffic problems in the Milpas Street corridor and Eastside neighborhoods, so the council approved a Neighborhood Transportation Management Plan to pursue “quick-fix” improvements and longer-term projects.

The city already underfunds its street-maintenance and sidewalk in-fill programs, and Eastside pedestrian and traffic improvements — as highlighted in a September meeting — will probably cost at least $500,000, according to city transportation manager Browning Allen.

Community Development Block Grants could be used to fund some of those improvements, if more of the capital money were allocated to city projects, Allen said in September.

Transportation staff suggested prioritizing Eastside project applications for the CDBG funding, even for the current application cycle, but that didn’t happen.

“There was no need to make changes to the application process for 2013-14,” said Elizabeth Stotts, community development programs specialist. “However, at a recent orientation workshop for CDBG/Human Service grant applications, staff did inform all prospective applicants about council’s discussion.”

“We had that policy discussion when we released the funding (in October), just before the call for applications,” Mayor Helene Schneider said.

“If we look at the Eastside for street improvements, and we’re just now embarking on a process of prioritization, it was premature to even think what we were going to apply for,” she said. “Next year it might be a whole other discussion.”

The City Council gives direction to the Community Development and Human Services Committee on priorities, and the committee processes the applications and makes recommendations for funding in the spring.

The city has contributed consistent funding to the grants over recent years, but HUD amounts have been decreasing. City leaders won’t know how much money they have to allocate for the 2013-2014 year until about March, but applications are due Dec. 14 to the city.

Funding must be used for programs that benefit low- to moderate-income people, eliminate or prevent slums or blight, or meet other local community development needs.

This year, the council approved funding for 53 public service programs, for $747,098, and 11 capital projects, for $581,521.

Of that money, $281,146 was allocated for city projects — such as MTD bus shelters, community center improvements, access ramps and the Cabrillo Ball Field storm drain repair — and the rest was given to local nonprofit organizations for their projects.

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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