May 22, 2024
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State of the City: Santa Barbara South Coast officials adapt to ‘changing landscape’

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The theme of the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce State of the City was adaptation to a changing landscape.

Several city officials from Santa Barbara, Goleta and Carpinteria spoke, and one overarching idea in each presentation was that the landscape – in housing, in financial security, in workforce development – had changed drastically as a result of the pandemic, and that those changes were continuing to unfold.

Kristen Miller, the president and CEO of the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce, addressed many of these changes and the shifting regional dynamics in a speech to roughly 400 people at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort on April 12.

She pointed to the booming tech industry as a key economic engine for the area, and also highlighted the role of the hospitality industry.

“We are not just navigating the challenges of today,” Miller said. “We are shaping a prosperous tomorrow.”

Housing, which has long been an issue along the Central Coast, was also a major topic of discussion. Carpinteria Mayor Al Clark spoke about the city’s difficulties with state housing mandates and cautioned that while affordable housing is an important issue for the city, the residents didn’t want to lose the natural wonders that draw tourists to the region.

“This creates a conundrum for us,” Clark said. “The state has failed the city.”

Meanwhile, Goleta Mayor Paula Perotte took the chance to discuss the progress Goleta has made on several key issues, like restoration projects and civic engagement.

“The state of our city is very, very strong,” Perotte said. “More and more want to live and work here, and more businesses want to expand here.”

She pointed to projects like Go Green Goleta, where the city is working to install 17 electrical vehicle charging stations for the city’s fleet and the public to use by the summer. Additionally, the Goleta train depot construction is set to start in the fall, with the goal of the project being finished in 2026.

“There is so much more progress being made than we had planned, and so much to look forward to,” Perotte said.

In a later panel with the city managers of Carpinteria and Goleta, and the assistant city manager of Santa Barbara, it became clear that while there is a lot underway along the South Coast, the cost for those projects is not an easy one to swallow. Robert Nisbet, the Goleta city manager, presented $44 million of general revenue – with $66.3 million in expenses.

Santa Barbara’s budget had a $7 million deficit.

“Our revenue is not growing fast enough to meet ongoing expenses,” said Rene Everly, the assistant city manager of Santa Barbara.

All of the panelists pointed to issues like softening tourism revenues and higher costs as significant issues. There were several possible fiscal solutions to the issues proposed, including raising the sales tax and asking incoming companies to take on more of a role in regional concerns.

Nisbet spoke specifically about Google, which he mentioned was moving a greater portion of its operations into Goleta, and is making long-term plans to stay in the region.

Google was one of the sponsors of the State of the City event.

“In 20 years, I think Google will have quite a presence here,” Nisbet said. 

email: ahair@pacbiztimes.com