The sun sets behind the Department of Motor Vehicles field office in Santa Maria.
The sun sets behind the Department of Motor Vehicles field office in Santa Maria. A new, larger office has been in the works, but funding was cut from the current fiscal year’s budget because of COVID-19-related financial impacts on the state. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Amid COVID-19-related financial woes, the state has axed $17.4 million from the 2020-21 budget for construction of a new Department of Motor Vehicles field office in Santa Maria, delaying the long-awaited replacement project.

A budget request summary from January 2020 sought $17.4 million for the construction phase, the bulk of the project’s $21.8 million price tag. However, financial woes because of COVID-19 have stalled the Santa Maria project, with DMV officials being tight-lipped about details.

“The planning stages of the replacement office are moving forward. However, there are currently no funds available at this time to move forward with construction,” DMV officials said in a succinct reply to questions from Noozhawk.

Talked about for years and seemingly finally moving toward reality, the project would replace the Santa Maria DMV building, which has significant seismic and structural issues and is inefficient and noncompliant with the California Building Codes. 

In early 2018, the state confirmed purchasing 3 acres on Santa Maria Way, between Miller Street and Sunrise Drive. 

Preliminary plans for the 13,000-square-foot building were completed in June 2019, with working drawings set to be complete in June 2020. Under the schedule, construction was set to begin in October of this year and be completed in March 2022. 

Then COVID-19 struck, creating financial woes for the state and leaving the DMV project in limbo again.

The January 2020 budget document from the state spelled out the need, calling the 50-year-old, 3,865-square-foot office at 523 S. McClelland St. “no longer a viable location” for the DMV.

While the building hasn’t grown, the city and the broader community served by the field office have grown.

“The Santa Maria population has grown from approximately 32,749 in 1970 to 106,208 in 2017, a 224% population increase,” according to the state.

Those numbers don’t reflect that the facility serves the wider Santa Maria Valley along with the Cuyama Valley and southern San Luis Obispo County, areas that also have grown significantly in the past five decades. In total, the Santa Maria office serves communities with a total population topping 150,000.

Among the checklist of flaws, the facility fails to meet the Americans with Disability Act, and a new building would resolve fire and safety concerns.

“The DMV office has problematic and insufficient customer parking, and the customer lobby is greatly deficient. The office also fails to meet program space standards. The dysfunctional space, complaints from customers and poor parking have created conditions which prevent the field office from providing optimum service to this community or an acceptable work environment for employees,” according to the budget document. “On multiple occasions, the City of Santa Maria has asked DMV to seek alternate space as the office condition does not meet the needs of the Santa Maria community.”

Santa Maria city officials, who have lobbied for a new, larger office since 2006, said a DMV representative confirmed that the Santa Maria project remains active and that design plans are moving forward. 

“Construction funding is dependent on the state’s budget, which has both a structural deficit and a one-time windfall,” said Mark van de Kamp, public information manager. “The city and many others look forward to the modern, larger Santa Maria DMV facility to meet the growing regional demand from DMV customers.”

According to an October budget revision report from the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the funding cut for the Santa Maria office was among $54.7 million in slashed DMV capital outlay projects, including Reedley, Delano and San Francisco field office replacements and reconfiguration of the Oxnard facility. 

“The current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and resulting economic downturn have significantly impacted state transportation revenues, which, in turn, impact the funding available for certain programs,” according to the report.

The state’s overall budget provided about $1.4 billion for DMV operations, a decrease of $27 million (or 2%) from the revised 2019‑20 expenditure level. 

“The year-to-year decrease is primarily due to the reduced funding for new field offices,” the report stated.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.