A community visioning survey on the future of Santa Maria, as part of the process to update the General Plan, remains active until Dec. 13.
A community visioning survey on the future of Santa Maria, as part of the process to update the General Plan, remains active until Dec. 13. (City of Santa Maria graphic)

A convention center and event spaces. More career training opportunities. Safer spots for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Those were among the ideas that community leaders and local residents offered as they imagined Santa Maria’s future during a workshop Wednesday where the issue of expanding the city’s boundaries into agricultural land sparked differing opinions.

The virtual gathering involved more than 50 people participating in the city Community Development Department’s process to update the city’s General Plan. That document will serve as the blueprint for growth and development through 2045.

A city-hired consultant, Ron Whitmore of Raimi & Associates, led the discussions after spelling out what he called “a long process” with final review and adoption by the City Council expected in the winter of 2023.

“It will take several years, but it is approached in a very methodical, step-by-step, building-block approach with each step being guided by the community,” Whitmore said. “We are at the very beginning stages of the project.”

Information and ideas collected during the visioning workshops and surveys will serve as the foundation for the process of updating the General Plan, a document required by state law.

General plans typically include topics at the heart of a community — housing, land use, noise, transportation, natural resources, public safety, economic development and more.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to build a sense of community ownership of the plan so that during implementation that ownership and enthusiasm carry over,” Whitmore said.

The process involved noting the city’s many assets and mentioning needed additions.

Glenn Morris, president and chief executive officer of the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce, noted that the northeast quadrant — east of Highway 101 — needs shopping and other business options for the hundreds of residents.

“There’s no dry cleaner, there’s nothing east of the 101 today,” Morris said. “There are too many people living over there now to not have some neighborhood commercial options.”

One topic sparked some spirited discussion but expected division — whether to expand the city’s boundaries by annexing agricultural land. That likely will prompt some debate in the future among factions eager to protect prime agricultural land and those viewing the property as necessary for Santa Maria’s future growth.

Ken Hough, executive director of the Santa Barbara County Action Network, noted one agricultural area “that ought not to be annexed into the city,” acknowledging that existing development nearby made it ripe for inclusion in the city.

“SBCAN has long fought for keeping prime ag as it is and not to annex it, whether it’s around Santa Maria or Guadalupe or Lompoc or anywhere,” Hough said.

“There’s going to be some growth, right? We can’t add 30,000 people or 40,000 people or whatever the projection is and not grow somewhere, so I think you have to start looking at where are the opportunities,” Morris said, adding that the goal should be to find sites contiguous to existing city limits and limiting the land annexed.

“This is going to be one of the issues that are fundamental to the General Plan,” Whitmore said, noting projections calling for significant growth in the city. “So the question is, where should it go? How much can we accommodate within the existing city footprint, and then what expansion will be needed, and if so, where? Part of our job to support that process is to help you all in the community understand the trade-offs with different options.”

A few weeks ago, during a report on the General Plan update, some City Council members seemed to favor annexing agricultural land for future growth.

Using information from the workshops and surveys, the council’s first decision this winter will be to approve a long-term vision and guiding principles for the process to update the General Plan.

For those who want to have a say about Santa Maria’s future, an online community visioning survey seeking ideas can be taken through Dec. 13 with the poll available by clicking here.

In addition to Wednesday’s sessions, a Spanish-only virtual workshop covering the same content will be held at 6:30 p.m. Dec. 3. To register for the meeting or get more information about General Plan update, click here.

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

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Janene Scully | Noozhawk North County Editor

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at jscully@noozhawk.com.