A group of rankled neighbors showed up at Wednesday night’s Neighborhood Advisory Council meeting, voicing concern that they hadn’t been consulted about plans for a business improvement district for Santa Barbara’s Milpas Street area.
The plans, which are being spearheaded by the Milpas Community Association, would create a district that would assess itself in order to promote the businesses that pay into the program as well as conduct services such as targeted security patrols and holiday parades.
Costs to join range from $215 for a retail shop to $745 for lodging establishments of 50 or more rooms.
The area included in the district would span Milpas, as well as carving out portions of the waterfront on the southern end and the parcel that includes the Santa Barbara Bowl on the north end.
A map of the district and more details can be found by clicking here.
Several dozen people, including Eastside residents and business owners, gathered on Wednesday night at the Franklin Neighborhood Center, several speaking out during public comment, voicing concern about the idea.
Two City Council members — Cathy Murillo and Bendy White — were also present to listen in on public comment.
Neighborhood and Outreach Services Director Mark Alvarado explained that there wouldn’t be a presentation about the EBID, as some had expected, because MCA Executive Director Sharon Byrne has asked for more time to prepare. Byrne wasn’t present at Thursday’s meeting.
Though the association conducted a presentation to the City Council last November, they’ve not yet made a presentation to the Neighborhood Advisory Council.
Byrne told Noozhawk on Thursday she was surprised that the item was on the agenda at the meeting, and that the group was planning on presenting information about the EBID in February to the community.
The group had their plan signed off by the city last Friday, and couldn’t do any outreach until that happened, Byrne said.
One NAC member said she’d heard that business owners who opposed the district had been harassed and bullied by some members of the MCA.
Dante Omar Morales, whose family owns Omar’s Travel at 502 N. Milpas St., said they had been approached by several people from the MCA, who tried to persuade the business not to oppose the plan.
“I find that tactic unethical,” he said.
Morales said his storefront as well as that of neighboring businesses had signage up decrying the EBID, and were told the signage was illegal.
Rising rents and gentrification were among some of the concerns mentioned, but several people expressed dismay that they hadn’t been included in the conversation at all.
“Half of the people who are involved in the project aren’t even aware of it,” Eastside resident Olivia Rodriguez said. “They haven’t consulted with any businesses other than their board.”
Byrne said that in addition to the city just recently signing off on the final plan, the group didn’t want to pitch the details of the EBID only to have the city make them leave some out.
“Let’s say we were going to offer trash cleanup and the city said you can’t do litter pickup because a city ordinance says on city staff can do it,” she said. “It would have been premature to pitch that.”
Byrne said the group only started doing outreach Monday, so didn’t agree that the group had been bullying shop owners, but said she was surprised when protestors had showed up at the Milpas Christmas Parade.
Protesters had put up signs opposing the EBID in vacant storefront windows, she said, adding that MCA President Alan Bleecker started taking them down only to find that one had been placed in the storefront by the store’s owner, who confronted Bleecker.
“We’ve also been bullied,” she said. “Whenever there’s a change to the status quo, there’s fear. I am totally sympathetic to that fear, let’s just have civil discourse about it.”
One change that has occurred to the plan was to make sure business owners aren’t billed twice for the EBID fee if their landlords are billed as well. Byrne said the group worked to eliminate all of the landlords from the roll.
Eastside resident Jacqui Inda also spoke, saying she and other Eastside residents had been reading over the plans since the November council meeting, and asked that the NAC give opponents of a the plan a chance to make a presentation as well.
“I am one of those folks that got harassed,” she told the room. “We have been consulting with attorney because of that harassment,”
Inda said it “was completely inappropriate” to tell business owners to take down signs on their property or to tell people they’d lose business if they didn’t join the MCA.
MCA board member Jarrett Gorin was present at Thursday night’s meeting and said he would urge MCA leadership to have a meeting, and also called on NAC member Sebastian Aldana to recuse himself on the issue since Aldana was formerly involved with MCA until recently.
Alvarado interjected, saying that the city’s attorney did not agree there was a conflict.
Byrne said she plans to present the information at the NAC meeting in February, and would also like to hold more community meetings about the issue.