The Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce hosted the first State of the City address in Carpinteria on Friday since the merging of the South Coast Chambers.
The South Coast Chamber team was joined by local leaders to discuss city improvements, COVID-19 response and the economic impact that the global pandemic has had on Carpinteria.
“Our organization is new, but our histories are deep,” said Kristen Miller, the chamber’s president and CEO. “By working together, we can bring a new level of connectedness, vitality and strength to our local economy and our communities.”
Carpinteria Mayor Wade Nomura outlined the city’s future priorities, which include strengthening the community, protecting the environment, retaining the small-town feel and advancing local youths.
A recent accomplishment for the city was the transition of moving the Carpinteria Library into the city itself. The library was faced with termination, but now is something that the community can look forward to, Nomura said.
Racial equity and social justice also are prominent issues in the community, especially in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, according to Nomura.
The city created two committees to build social justice throughout the community: a committee that looks at policies that can be put in place to strengthen social justice, and a “blue ribbon” committee comprised of two City Council members and community members.
“People within the community can give us good feedback of things we have to look at to ensure that we have sound equity within our community,” Nomura said. “The difference between equality and equity is equality is treating everybody the same. Equity is something that you actually balance with fairness.”
Nomura also mentioned efforts to increase housing affordability in the area. There is now a guarantee on rent control for mobile home parks in the community.
The Carpinteria City Council recently passed legislation to protect housing by reducing the potential for vacation and short-term rentals in an effort to make way for more affordable housing in the community, Nomura said.
“A challenge we’ve always faced is, ‘How do we keep the good Carpinterians here?’’” Nomura said. “I believe we can do it, and I’m very proud of what the council has done to move that forward.”
The city created two committees to offset COVID-19 impacts.
“This is one of the areas we never anticipated, but became our greatest challenge,” Nomura said.
A communications committee ensures that the community stays in the loop on the ever-changing health and safety guidelines, Nomura said.
The second committee is a small-business restart program, which includes a grant of $135,000 with a matching $30,000 from the Santa Barbara Foundation, to kickstart some of the suffering businesses. Grants were given to local companies and businesses that showed the need for economic assistance.
“It’s very difficult for us to understand where exactly we are in terms of health and the economy,” UCSB Economic Forecast Project executive director Peter Rupert said.
The city’s overall general fund budget shrank about 13 percent to a little more than $9 million for the fiscal year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The city had to cut into its “rainy-day fund” as a way to continue delivering services to the city, according to City Manager Dave Durflinger.
“These are temporary uses of these rainy-day funds,” Durflinger said. “We anticipate that after two years, we will be able to balance the budget as our revenue sources start coming back.”
COVID-19’s biggest hit to the city’s revenue sources was the drop in transient occupancy tax revenue, which was about 20 percent less than the previous year, Durflinger said. Leisure and hospitality employment is down roughly 30 percent compared with last July, according to Rupert.
Sales tax revenue also fell, about 10 percent from the prior year because of the stay-at-home order that shut down restaurants and called for travel restrictions.
“The city has had to cut expenses and use its rainy-day fund in response to pandemic-related financial impacts,” Durflinger said. “However, we have confidence that we can continue to deliver the services, programs and projects that are desired by the Carpinteria community.”
About 6,000 people throughout Santa Barbara County have lost their jobs because of the pandemic, according to Rupert. Just in Carpinteria, employment numbers were 1,000 less than they were during the April-November months of 2019.
“Those numbers are numbers we haven’t seen before, and we don’t know how to deal with it,” Rupert said. “Even though we thought we’d seen it all during the recession, then the pandemic hits.”
There are typically about 200 unemployed people in Carpinteria, according to Rupert, and in just a few months that number rose to 800. While the number has gone down slightly, there are still about 600 unemployed individuals in the city, Rupert said.
“We’re not out of the woods. Maybe the trees have thinned a little bit, but we still have a long way to go,” Rupert said. “What we need to do in the future, we have to be better prepared.”