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Local News

Santa Barbara Residents Weigh In on City’s Infrastructure Needs

The council hosts the third in a series of eight planned public workshops to gather input on prioritizing projects

The City of Santa Barbara and its residents must face the reality of area infrastructure needs, coming to terms with the fact that some projects will take priority over others.

That was the message delivered during a public workshop hosted Monday evening by the Santa Barbara City Council as the third in a series of eight meetings designed to elicit comments on the conditions of streets, sidewalks, libraries and more.

A couple dozen residents gathered for the 45-minute dialogue at the Central Library’s Faulkner Gallery, listening and taking notes as Santa Barbara City Councilman Bendy White explained the meeting’s prioritization purpose.

City spokeswoman Nina Johnson gave an intentionally brief overview of infrastructure needs, including those in public safety, historic architecture, transportation and recreational access.

She said the city has been triaging for years, employing temporary fixes instead of solving larger issues — fire stations lacking accommodations for women, the police station failing to meet seismic standards, Central Library renovations and more.

While some projects can be funded by donations, grants or the last of the Redevelopment Agency dollars, such as the upcoming Cabrillo Arts Pavilion renovation, that barely scratches the surface, Johnson said.

Elimination of the RDA cost the city $16 million annually, she added.

“What should be saved, and where should we be investing our dollars?” she said. “We’re seeing signs of losing the battle. More and more of our public spaces can’t be enjoyed.”

Johnson cited closure of Westside pools and the rooftop library patio.

City staff handed out questionnaires asking residents to rank overall feelings about infrastructure and areas of greatest concern, with sidewalks, access ramps and libraries among them.

“Can I make a recommendation?” one resident asked White, requesting installation of paddle tennis courts.

Locals raised other issues, including whether some recreational projects would be worth the effort based on need.

“It’s difficult to make those choices without data,” said Eric Friedman, a city resident who also works for county First District Supervisor Salud Carbajal.

Others suggested the city adopt civic crowdfunding, public-private partnerships or reduce street sweeping from once a week to once every other.

“When I don’t have the money, I cut back on things,” another offered, suggesting the city look at its biggest expense: payroll. “You let things go to get what you want.”

Another said he was a bit overwhelmed by the priorities list and needed more information of what was most critical.

“I appreciate that,” White said. “I think we at least tried to put some of that into the presentation. Our big kahuna is definitely the police headquarters. We just need a new police building.

“This is the beginning of this conversation. We will be coming back around. Stay tuned and stay involved.”

The next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Louise Lowry Davis Center, with another at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Central Library.

Johnson said the city hopes to gather input by mid-November to bring before the City Council for consideration by the end of the year.

Noozhawk staff writer Gina Potthoff 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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