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Santa Maria Sun / Commentary

The following article was posted on November 5th, 2013, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 35 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 35

Look forward to downtown

Let's use caution and hindsight while welcoming new ideas regarding Santa Maria's future

BY TERRI ZUNIGA

There has been a lot of discussion recently regarding the Downtown Specific Plan. Certainly the Towbes Group’s Hancock Terrace Apartments on East Boone (a project that will add 262 new units at a site that was previously industrial) at a cost of $40 million and the purchase of the vacant Mervyns retail space by National Stores, Inc. to house a Fallas retail outlet in the 85,000-square-foot building have spearheaded much of the conversation.

The one project in the Downtown Specific Plan sphere that hasn’t generated any divisiveness is the soon-to-open 14-screen Regal Theater, which will have seating for 2,800 movie goers. This project has been touted as the cornerstone of the revitalization of our downtown. Promises have included two new large chain retailers waiting in the wings to locate here, as well as the addition of four new restaurants and two additional outlets in the food court. Certainly the addition of the skate park, the batting cages, and the soccer fields have increased mall traffic; hopefully patrons of these attractions are also shopping in the mall retail stores and food outlets.

A discussion regarding the Downtown Specific Plan cannot happen without attempting to identify who we are as a community and who we will be in the next 10, 20, 30 years. We must be visionaries who are rooted in the reality of our community, who are willing and able to celebrate who we are and who we’ll be in the future, who value diversity, and who can acknowledge that everyone contributes to the vitality of our community—including the high-wage earners who can afford to buy expensive homes and shop at high-end retailers, as well as those who are on the lower end of the earnings scale, who are most likely renting—not purchasing—a home, but are no less spending their dollars here. And of course let’s not forget those middle-wage earners, many of whom are our own city employees, who are raising families, purchasing homes, and spending their dollars to support our local economy as well. The million dollar question is how we create a community that meets all the needs of this diversity.

My high school history teacher always warned that it was important to study history so that we don’t make the same mistakes that were made in the past, to prepare us for our future, and to assure that decisions made today are based on the knowledge we’ve gained from our past. The Downtown Specific Plan attempts to create much of what we destroyed in the past; along the Main Street-Broadway corridor, we had mixed uses and pedestrian-friendly shopping.  For those of us who can remember, you could walk to the post office, then to the movie theater; shop at the candy, dress, or music store; stop at the pharmacy/gift shop; visit the library; and get a burger, all in the area identified as the Downtown Specific Plan. We need to use caution, hindsight, and the benefit of census and economic data to drive our decisions today that will impact generations to come.

So can mixed use work? Are high-end retailers our only options? Do we want to eliminate/ignore the small business owner to court the big box retailers?

I could at this point relate data provided in UCSB’s Economic Forecast—data that includes current and future trends in education, employment, income, housing, population, and age relating to North County. I’m not certain that information would be helpful here, however it is information we need to be acutely aware of as we make decisions regarding current and future development and as we create a vision for our future.

Pivotal to the conversation is celebrating our diversity, equally acknowledging all who contribute to the vitality of our community. We need to embrace and celebrate our rich history and embrace the vision of all that our future can be.

Can we create a downtown that utilizes mixed use? Can we draw high-end retailers? Can we draw industry to our city? Can we provide a diversity of housing options? Can we adequately mitigate the impact on our infrastructure—including fire, police, schools, recreation and parks, and all the other important vital services a city provides to its residents?

My colleagues and I on the City Council certainly do not have all the answers—but you, the community we serve, do. It is our responsibility to engage you, beyond a three-minute opportunity to speak at a City Council meeting; we need to assure a true and real engagement, discussions that include a respectful consideration of all ideas and all opinions. I have been approached by many in the community recently who have awesome ideas regarding our city’s future—ideas that include marketing and branding, creating a community that will draw young families, and also wanting to address the rich diversity of our community, ideas for bridging our past and our future.

We are on the threshold of change. Our options are to use this opportunity to be divisive, or we can embrace the opportunity and be collaborative. With a community as diverse as ours, we should not always agree, but we should always be inclusive and respectful. The diversity of opinion will allow for the best and brightest future for our children and grandchildren.

 

Terri Zuniga is a Santa Maria City Council member. Send comments to the executive editor at rmiller@santamariasun.com.