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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 5th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 19, Issue 27

CAUSE hosts community town hall on Santa Maria general plan

By Joe Payne

A coalition of local activist groups teamed up to host a community town hall to discuss Santa Maria's general plan on the evening of Aug. 30, asking attendees to share their ideas for improving and guiding the city's growth.

Local residents, activists, organizers, and candidates for City Council came together to brainstorm how Santa Maria could improve conditions for residents when the general plan is updated by the city. The Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), Mixteco Indigena Community Organizing Project (MICOP), the Fund for Santa Barbara, and the Santa Barbara County Action Network (SBCAN) organized the forum at the Santa Maria Veterans Memorial Hall with maps and resources available for English, Spanish, and Mixteco speakers.

The city is overdue to update the general plan, which is a years-long process that goes before the City Council for for final approval, CAUSE organizer Abraham Melendrez told the crowd gathered. The goal of the town hall was to create a dialogue with the community and the city, he explained, and have ideas ready to present when the time comes.

"So why is it important to participate?" Melendrez said. "More contact begins a conversation about important topics that will represent the next 20 to 30 years, and we can determine what city we want Santa Maria to be."

Tables of six to eight people each scrawled ideas on poster-size paper regarding improving the city's transportation, housing, environment, and economic development.

One table included organizers with the Santa Maria Valley Democratic Club, District 3 City Council candidate Gloria Soto, and Santa Maria Planning Manager Ryan Hostetter. They shared ideas, narrowed down suggestions, and kept notes on the discussion.

Attendees at a town hall forum organized by CAUSE and other community groups brainstormed suggestions on Aug. 30 for an anticipated update to Santa Maria’s general plan.

     "Alright, the first 15 minutes is how can we improve–in the general plan kind of context– transportation in Santa Maria," said David Dennis, vice president for the Democratic Club.

     "Better transportation for youth to get to sports fields or after-school programs," Democratic Club volunteer Elizabeth Schneider said. "It seems like kids live in one direction and stuff is in the opposite direction, and it's too far to walk."

Other ideas they came up with regarding transportation included a mobile phone app for the Santa Maria Area Transit (SMAT) system, connecting the city's bike trails, and including more traffic calming infrastructure.

City Council candidate Soto said she has spoken directly with residents while canvassing in District 3 who complained about the speed of traffic through neighborhoods and the need for more lighted crosswalks as well.

Hostetter said she came to the meeting to observe and hear from city residents directly on behalf of the Planning Division, but her presence was also an informative one during the brainstorming process.

"The general plan includes goals and policies," Hostetter told the table. "So if you were to have some goals for the city to focus on, say the city kind of allocates its funding based on its adopted goals, where would you like to see that go?"

Hostetter was also able to provide up-to-date information about state versus city programs and laws during the brainstorming session.

One recommendation that came to improve housing was to "apply for redevelopment funds for the downtown to put more apartments above the retail stores."

"Redevelopment funds don't exist anymore," Hostetter explained. "There's some funds for specific topics, like CDBG, community development block grants, which you can use for specific rehab on existing housing."

When asked about the process for rent control to address housing issues in the city, Soto said she had spoken with state Assemblymember Monique Limón (D-Santa Barbara) about the possibility of rent control legislation coming through the state Legislature.

"If the state allows it, then still an individual city would have to decide they wanted to do that," Dennis chimed in. "And it would take, just like this, a large amount of political will because the folks that sometimes fund campaigns don't like those things."

Each table posted their best ideas along the walls of the Veterans Hall before presenting their findings to the crowd in both English and Spanish. There was a general consensus among the groups for mixed-use development downtown, alternative transportation options, and more affordable housing in the city.

The results of the town hall will be taken into account as the city moves forward on updating its general plan, which hasn't officially started yet, Hostetter said. The city is beginning a "request for proposals to get some help to do the analysis to complete it," she explained.

"It takes several years and you have to do an environmental impact report, which takes a long time," Hostetter said. "If you think about it, you're developing a plan for the next 20 to 30 years, and it takes a good three- to five-year window to do something like that."

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