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Santa Barbara Prepares For Tax Initiative to Fund Streets Maintenance

City Council's finance committee hears about options to handle the underfunded streets maintenance program

Santa Barbara City Councilmen Jason Dominguez, Gregg Hart and Harwood ‘Bendy’ White hear about the need for additional street maintenance funding at Tuesday’s finance committee meeting.
Santa Barbara City Councilmen Jason Dominguez, Gregg Hart and Harwood ‘Bendy’ White hear about the need for additional street maintenance funding at Tuesday’s finance committee meeting. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Santa Barbara’s gas tax revenues are expected to drop by more than $1 million by 2017, just one of the many causes of Santa Barbara’s struggle to maintain its streets and road infrastructure.

“We’re seeing a decline in driving,” said Rob Dayton, principal transportation planner. “The millennial generation isn’t driving as many miles.”

The city of Santa Barbara is scrambling to find ways to tackle its multimillion-dollar backlog of streets and other infrastructure maintenance. 

The likely scenario? The city behind-the-scenes is gunning to put a general tax measure on the November ballot.

The city’s finance committee met Tuesday to talk about ways to help fund streets, medians, streetlights, sidewalks, traffic signals and a variety of other items. The committee took no action.

It was an opportunity for the Finance Director Bob Samario and Dayton to lay out the problem and set the stage for a tax measure, along with other budget cuts. 

The city has a $12.9-million budget for streets funding, but its revenues have stayed flat over time while salaries, benefits and other costs have gone up. 

Dayton presented a starting point for the conversation, giving a report that showed the city's core and “non-core” street fund activities.

Roads, traffic signals, sidewalks, street lights, bridges, storm drains and transportation planning are core infrastructure items, Dayton said. Street trees and median landscaping are not, he said.

In terms of street operations, traffic engineering and the Laguna Pump Station are essential, but street sweeping, funding for the downtown/waterfront shuttle, Easy Lift and portable toilets are non-core, Dayton said.

Street maintenance, street resurfacing, striping and curb painting and storm drain cleaning are essential maintenance items, but graffiti abatement, garbage removal, shopping cart retrieval and homeless encampment clean-up are not. 

As revenues have declined, Santa Barbara has neglected street paving, storm drain cleaning and street lighting upgrades

“We don’t have a comprehensive plan of what needs to be fixed in the street lighting area,” Dayton said. “We have been largely reactive.”

The city also has not upgraded its storm drains.

“We have not made infrastructure repairs of storm drains, except for emergencies,” said Rebecca Bjork, Public Works Director.

The city isn’t even sure how old its storm drains are, possibly 60 to 70 years old, Bjork said. 

Santa Barbara has successfully over the years obtained grant funding for a variety of public works capital projects, such as new traffic signals, but officials said on Tuesday that grant money is typically only awarded for projects that promote or address safety problems.

There is not a large pool of grant opportunities for street maintenance.

So Santa Barbara is stuck in a rough spot because projects have been built over the years but the city does not have enough money for regular maintenance of those projects.

“We don’t have a choice with those grant monies,” Hart said. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina 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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