What can Santa Cruz learn from Santa Barbara?
Last weekend (September 4-6) a collection of Santa Cruzans visited Santa Barbara with the intent of learning from the sister City/County/UC how they’re tackling public policy challenges very similar to our own. The trip was the latest in an annual series called the Community Leadership Visit put together by the Santa Cruz Chamber of Commerce. Among the business owners and public officials attending were Lynn Robinson (Mayor, City of Santa Cruz), Alex Clifford (General Manager, Santa Cruz Metro), Bud Colligan (Central Coast Angels) and Jeanne Howard (Publisher, Santa Cruz Good Times). Robert Singleton and I (Manu Koenig) had the pleasure of joining to represent Civinomics.
It was striking just how similar our two regions are in everything from transportation to homelessness to economic opportunity. Even more striking is the simple fact that the public policy options Santa Barbara is employing to deal with these issues are not new. They’re also not necessarily specific to a California beach town. The 2012 Community Leadership Visit to Boulder Colorado revealed all of the same problems and potential solutions. Having been on both trips, it’s starting to feel like some of these solutions are not a matter of if but when; that success for the Santa Cruz region is not a matter of creativity, but rather enough political cohesion to implement clear strategies to move forward.
Both Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara deal with crippling traffic along their central highway (the 1 for Santa Cruz and the 101 for Santa Barbara). Santa Barbara has managed to pass a half cent sales tax ($0.005) in order to raise close to $1 billion for transportation improvements over the next 30 years. 85% of California counties have implemented a tax like this to counterbalance decreasing revenues from a CA state gas tax. Santa Cruz County has not. Santa Barbara managed the 2/3 vote needed to pass the tax through extensive community dialogue, creating a common vision for their transportation future. Every group had to compromise, and every transportation modality was included in the plan (highway widening, bus and transit, bike and pedestrian paths, local roads, train). It is likely that the Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation commission will be going for a Half Cent tax measure in 2016 when voter turnout is good. What do you think? Vote on the potential measure and suggest what transportation improvements you would like to see the money fund:
Santa Barbara is significantly better off than Santa Cruz when it comes to water. While their reservoirs are running low just like ours, they haven’t tapped their groundwater reservers yet and therefore their aquifers are not threatened by seawater intrusion. They’re hooked up to the State Water Project (though only receiving 5% of their allotment). Most significantly, they already have both a recycled water plant (for all of those golf courses and other non-potable uses) as well as a desalination plant. Their desal plant has been offline for years, but they are starting it up again with plans for it to account for nearly half of their water supply within 3 years if the current drought continues. Water Department Staff expected this to raise water rates by 20% over the same time period.
You can weigh in on desal, recycled water and other proposals in the workshop:
Learn more in our post on the upcoming convention the week.
Both Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara face a housing crises caused by the high value of coastal property, local constituencies that have favored slow/no growth policies, and university students cramming in to existing housing stock with 150% the number of residents recommended by fire-code. UCSB is adding 5,000 new housing units to its campus to address the problem and the nearby town of Goleta has taken a proactive approach to identifying “Housing Opportunity Sites” that need to be rezoned. For more, read Robert’s blog this week about housing. You can also weigh in on the initiative:
Many people believe that Santa Cruz is the Mecca of homelessness. Visiting Santa Barbara might dissuade them of that notion. I can personally attest that I was asked for money by homeless individuals at least as many times on Santa Barbara’s lower State Street as I’ve ever been on lower Pacific Ave in Santa Cruz. Their most successful approach to this problem has been going block by block to identify and connect homeless people with the social services they need. In May, the Santa Cruz City Council approved $200,000 for a similar program in Santa Cruz. To discuss this program:
Regarding the “travelers” – homeless by choice individuals – all they’ve been able to come up with is blocking off public seating and aggressively ticketing/confiscating unlicensed dogs.
Both Santa Cruz and Santa Barbara have tourist based economies with huge potential in high tech. The first stop on the Community Leadership Visit was GEM – the Goleta Entrepreneurial Magnet. Much like Boulder Colorado’s Innovation Center of the Rockies, GEM is a public private partnership between UCSB (office of Tech Transfer), the City of Goleta, the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, and private sponsors. It is also still wet behind the ears with just one summer of operation under it’s belt. It was clear from the line of questioning for the GEM folks that Bud Colligan of Central Coast Angels doubts the effectiveness of public institution involvement in incubators. Indeed, Silicon Valley never needed such publicly funded incubators and if Silicon Valley money is coming to Santa Cruz, perhaps we don’t either. You decide:
When it comes to the tourism and visitor economy, Santa Barbara had a few, not terribly original ideas. For one, their Main St is two ways with bike lanes and no onstreet parking. Driving down it in a motor coach very clearly conveyed to me the utility of being able to “browse the street from the car.” Having done one lap I knew where all the stores I wanted to visit were located. I also knew I could easily find my way back, a feat not so easily accomplished in Santa Cruz.
Santa Barbara’s tagline is “The American Riviera.” To augment this fact they allow cruise ships to harbor and come ashore in the Fall and Spring (Summer is too busy). The Santa Barbara visitors bureau said the added revenue from the program has been “noticeable.” Would Santa Cruz be better off with some cruise ships every now and then? Monterey already receives cruise ships such as the Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises, so it’s not a conflict with the Sanctuary…
Finally, Santa Barbara has seen its new art and wine district, the Funk Zone, rocket in popularity. Beth Ragel, Santa Cruz’s new Arts Program Manager who attended the trip, was clearly getting ideas. Santa Cruz doesn’t have a defined gallery district to help jointly market and monetize the work of all its great artists. The main question is where would such a district go? Being located near downtown helps with visitor flows, but an availability of low cost warehouse space is a must. In some ways, Swift St is Santa Cruz’s Funk Zone equivalent. The Tannery Arts Center is also a hub, although there aren’t a lot of surrounding shops for expansion. Then again, maybe an official designation would detract from both of these. If you got ideas, add your comments to:
Whether you think Santa Barbara got it right with these policies or not, one thing is clear: we need to work together to move forward as a community.