Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino.
Santa Maria Mayor Alice Patino delivers the State of the City presentation on Wednesday morning. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Mayor Alice Patino’s sneak peek into Santa Maria’s future included a lot of new housing, efforts to expand the city’s boundaries, a new hotel and a second Chick-fil-A.

More than 180 people attended the Wednesday morning State of the City event organized by the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce and held at the Santa Maria Radisson

“The state of our city is healthy, succeeding and growing in the right direction,” Patino said. “Our commitment is to making Santa Maria a safer, more successful, more financially sound and more beautiful place for our families, businesses and visitors for generations to come. Overall, the city is maintaining services and also investing in enhancements.” 

Housing issues drew a lot of her focus.

“Another strong indicator of a city’s health is development activity, and we have a lot going on,” Patino said, noting that other communities talk about adding a dozen new residences while Santa Maria’s amounts to hundreds. 

Several apartment complexes and single-family homes are under construction with approvals in place for hundreds of others. 

Additionally, multiple mixed-used developments will add to the city’s housing supply while providing commercial space with some planned for downtown as the formerly stalled revitalization takes off.

“We have the political will to build. We know people are living so many families in a house. We want to build,” she said, criticizing the state laws that allow projects to bypass the local approval process. 

“Man, did I get a lot of calls on that five-story thing that went up on Santa Maria Way. I mean our phones were ringing off the hook,” Patino said of the Santa Maria Studios project. 

Apartment project in Santa Maria.
Construction workers can be seen at the future Centennial Square apartments at the corner of Miller Street and Plaza Drive in Santa Maria. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

She recalled that the development’s sewer pipes didn’t hook up to Santa Maria’s because “whoever was building it didn’t pay attention to the code,” she said. 

“They’re supposed to be in by December. I don’t know if they’ll make it or not,” she added.

Another avenue expanding housing in Santa Maria is a flurry of accessory dwelling units, or granny flats added to existing residential properties. In the past six years, the city has issued approximately 1,547 permits for ADUs.

While the city initially tried to require ADU residents to be relatives of those living in the main house, the state rejected that restriction, she said. 

Along with low-income and affordable housing under construction, Patinno said Santa Maria also needs housing for business executives.

“Let Santa Maria do what Santa Maria does well. We do really a good job of planning ahead,” she said, noting the decision to connect to the State Water Project as just one example. 

Among commercial projects planned are a Holiday Inn Express near Roemer Way and a Chick-fil-A, the city’s second, at Preisker Commercial Center (Preisker Lane and North Broadway), where a Wendy’s and a Hampton Inn & Suites hotel have opened.

The city has received the application, and the project is in the environmental review stage. The Planning Commission could consider the North County’s second Chick-fil-A early next year, according to city staff.

Patino also gave updates on crime, the Santa Maria General Plan Update, streets and sidewalks, parks, the library and more, including the council’s recent approval of water and wastewater rate hikes. 

“These adjustments are necessary to account for increased costs and planning for a major modernization of the wastewater treatment plan,” Patino said. 

Santa Maria’s transit system is switching to an all-electric fleet of buses by 2024.

“The move puts the city in line to have the first fully electric fleet on the Central Coast and well ahead of state mandates,” Patino said.

Santa Maria’s Pioneer Park recently added an all-inclusive playground, the second in the city, with the first at Preisker Park. 

The city also is working toward adding a four-field sports complex near the corner of Battles and Stowell roads plus has started work on a new Japanese Cultural Community Center that will be built near the restored Enos-Smith farmhouse. 

The lawn in front of City Hall also is set to be replaced, Patino said, half-jokingly adding that she intended to march in protest because “I don’t want to see that grass go.”

“So, if you see me walking up and down in front of City Hall, you’ll know what I’m doing,”  Patino said. “This is to comply with the state’s requirements and to do away with lawns.”

That was one of several verbals Patino made about the state’s mandates that remove some local control for cities and counties.

After her presentation, a panel discussion featured four small employers, including businesses and nonprofit organizations with some of the  comments made by the mayor echoed by participants. 

Finding employees is just one of many challenges facing small businesses.

“The personnel crunch we’re facing is reaching epic proportions,” Alana Walczak of CALM said.

A West Main Street businessman asked for the reduction of speed limits and more events such as Open Streets, a huge block party held on a closed section of the road.

“That’s a wonderful event that happened. I saw a lot of new faces, and a lot of them were from out of town,” Roger Galvan of Xtreme Electronics said.