July 16, 2024
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Forecast for Santa Barbara: construction, clogged streets


Elijah Brumback

Elijah Brumback

It’s going to hurt, but it will be worth it. That was the message Santa Barbara City Administrator Paul Casey delivered at the 7th-annual Radius Real Estate & Economic Forecast last week, speaking about construction activity near some of city’s main traffic intersections.

With several developments slated for the south end of State Street and along Cabrillo Boulevard this winter, coupled with two major bridge replacements, significant traffic congestion is expected and the city hopes residents can be patient, he said.

Despite commuting delays, all the construction should be a positive sign that some long-awaited developments such as the La Entrada Hotel — the $100 million, 123-room project with 20,000 square feet of commercial space from developer Michael Rosenfeld  — are finally clear to move forward, albeit with fingers crossed.

Other community projects in Santa Barbara include a $10 million renovation of the Cabrillo Pavilion Arts Center, pending the completion of the city’s first-ever sea level rise analysis. Casey said rising tides are a “real issue” and the city is working toward starting that process so the center can again be another “jewel” of the community.

Additionally, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is undergoing a major interior renovation to modernize the facility, which is cobbled together from a number of different structures on different elevations. “The project is challenging, but an exciting reinvestment in the downtown,” Casey said.

Some of the corridors surrounding downtown continue to draw the ire of developers with small infill or redevelopment mixed-use projects, some of which are putting the city’s under-used Average Unit Density program for rental housing into use, creating more density with smaller unit sizes. The program is under the limits of a seven-year trial period that allows for up to 300 units. A project just making its way to the planning review process is 604 E. Cota St., a 29-unit project from developer Peter Lewis.

Casey called the Haley and Cota corridor “a sort of forgotten place” that could spring forward as an extension of the Funk Zone. The area also is slated for a few affordable housing projects. Activity around city including the movement of some new businesses on the De La Vina corridor is adding vibrancy to that neighborhood and a couple of rental housing development on Milpas Street could be weaving their way through the planning department soon.

“One of the themes you’ll see going forward is that we’ve got a lot of rental projects coming up, which is really exciting and interesting,” Casey said. “It’s been a need we’ve identified and [have been] wanting to see in the market, and the market is turning for whatever reason to allow developers to pursue rental projects.”

One big question is federally held properties in prime locations that are under-utilized. The 50,000-square-foot downtown post office, which only uses about 5,000 square feet for operations, is one landmark building that’s created a number of conversations between the city and the federal government about a possible sale. However, talks remain open.

The National Guard Armory at 700 E. Canon Perdido St. is another building just waiting for a better use, Casey said. Roughly 10 years ago the city partnered with the school district to make a run at purchasing the property, but the government wouldn’t play ball and set a price of around $40 million to get access to property.

The Army Reserve Center near State Street and Las Positas is another property in the city’s long-term planning vision for possible expansion of Mackenzie Park. The government is going through the disposition process on the facility. “It’s a complicated and bureaucratic process, but we’re getting in line,” Casey said.

Moorpark nursery battle

Moorpark-based Performance Nursery said utility company Southern California Edison has served with an eviction notice, even though the nursery’s lease is paid through January. It’s the latest development in a long-running feud between the two companies.

SCE owns the site and wants the nursery out, but hasn’t given any particular reasons or made public to the community what it plans to do with the site going forward.

“Apparently SCE aims to go to court, perhaps as soon as the end of the week, to pursue a full eviction,” said nursery spokesman Keith Jajko in an email to the Business Times. “All this despite overwhelming community support, including about 1,500 petition signers and numerous letters to SCE officials, stating residents want the nursery here, where it has leased these 42 acres in Moorpark for 28 years.”

Jajko said it would be impossible to move the nursery’s 460,000 plants with any timeliness and that many will have to be destroyed if the business is forced to leave.