Who would have thought that it’d take nearly 20 years to get Santa Maria’s downtown vision on the runway? I’d say off the ground, but it’s still taxiing around the tarmac. 

On Oct. 3, the city’s Downtown Specific Plan rolled a little closer to takeoff position, thanks to a 3-1 vote from the City Council on an apartment complex at Main Street and Broadway. This development, dubbed the Alvin Newton Apartments, is a mixed-use complex with more than 80 apartments and ground floor commercial/retail space being brought to you by the Vernon Group

Downtown is poised for its third major evolutionary phase. The first was the original downtown that established a city center and a grid layout more than 100 years ago. That remained until the Santa Maria mall opened in 1975, which Santa Maria’s Community Development Director Chuen Wu dubbed “Santa Maria 2.0,” according to our previous reporting in May. 

Now, nearly four decades after the mall dominated (or decimated, depending on who you talk to) downtown, version 3.0 is an attempt to bring everything together, including the monolithic monument to shopping habits of a bygone era. The current plan is built on public outreach the city did in 2004 and again in 2015 for its Downtown Specific Plan, which is designed to define a vision and create a roadmap to finally revamp the city center. 

If all goes to plan, the Alvin Newton Apartments’ Spanish mission-style building will include plazas, an outdoor rooftop area for residents, and ground floor outdoor dining space. 

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time. As identified in the Downtown Specific Plan, there’s a vision for a pedestrian-friendly downtown with a mix of housing, retail, dining, and outdoor space, and this project does meet those goals and objectives,” Wu said. 

But this development was almost grounded because its early designs didn’t include the Alvin Newton memorial that currently sits at the site. 

After a series of meetings and public input, the Vernon Group agreed to add a “larger than life” memorial for Newton, a Santa Maria police officer and reserve firefighter who perished in the Bradley Hotel fire in 1970. The memorial—currently a bronze plaque with an inscription honoring Newton’s ultimate sacrifice—will now include a bronze statue with plaques to educate people about the tragedy and a mosaic highlighting firefighters’ service. 

During the Oct. 3 council meeting, Chamber of Commerce President Glenn Morris lauded the Vernon Group’s willingness to work with the city and its residents.

“It’s a great example of different groups of people who are willing to sit down respectfully, have a dialogue, and ultimately produce a project that’s better,” Morris said.  

Councilmember Carlos Escobedo wasn’t so sure about this project and couldn’t vote for it because his constituents are clamoring for affordable rent and ownership opportunities.  

“There’s the fact of having too many rentals, it’s something my constituents have not been fans of; they are looking to own,” Escobedo said. 

I get it. Housing prices are cuckoo-bananas. But one apartment complex of 80 units is not going to solve all the city’s problems. Keeping this plan from taking off would have been a mistake—this is a case of best serving the greater community by voting for progress. Let’s finally breathe new life into a city core that desperately needs it.

The Canary is flying. Send a perch to [email protected].

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