Milpas on the Move by Sharon Byrne as featured in today’s Santa Barbara Sentinel
Last Saturday, many neighbors turned up to sit with city workers, and explain traffic, pedestrian, and bicycling pain points in detail. Last September, the city council approved setting Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds aside to concentrate on improving traffic problems on the Eastside. The budget for street repairs, sidewalk infills, and other improvements had long been underfunded for the Eastside, so the streets have gotten more and more out of date for the emerging needs of the high-density area.
As budget funds have shrunk, the city turned to CDBG funds, usually used to make improvements to public facilities and ease blight, as the last stopgap to fund the easing of particular pain points in the Eastside.
So how does one approach an entire section of the city, and decide where to spend the limited funds? The city’s Public Works Department answer was to gather community input via a workshop where residents only could come in and discuss the known problems in their area.
This workshop wasn’t meant to be a solutions forum. Nor was it meant to be a gripe session. Participants were broken out into small groups by bilingual, English or Spanish-only tables. City staff presented a series of maps of the Eastside, each relating to a specific problem, like traffic and speeding, lack of sidewalks, or bus stop issues. Residents worked with a city facilitator to identify specific problems related to these categories.
The attendance was good, thanks in part to Casie Kilgore, principal of Franklin Elementary, where the workshop was held, who had roused parents to come out. COAST and the Milpas Community Association had also sent out calls to action to neighbors in the area. A childcare section had been set up, to give parents the maximum flexibility to attend the workshop.
If you’re unfamiliar with the long time frames for civil engineering projects, here’s a loose timeline:
City council approved 2014-2015 CDBG capital funds to be prioritized for traffic improvements to the Eastside neighborhood.
Community Input Phase:
Community input workshop – completed.
Public Works sends out surveys to get additional feedback from Eastside residents, in partnerships with the elementary schools in the area. Electronic surveys will be distributed to the Jr. High and High School, the Milpas Community Association, and COAST.
Public Works responds to concerns raised in the workshop, and presents possible solutions. Feedback will be gathered, for prioritization.
Then the work begins to scope out shovel-ready projects to address the priorities identified. Enforcement and education approaches will also be taken as appropriate, because some problems are better solved by these kinds of efforts.
Plan developed to incorporate all of this, presented to Transportation and Circulation Committee, Neighborhood Advisory Council, and City Council. Next job will be to identify funding sources.
Applications due for CDBG capital funds for 2014-2015.
Public Works typically will only have 3 weeks to complete the grant paperwork to apply and present before the CDBG committee.
CDBG grant awardees announced.
HUD releases CDBG funds to the city for approved projects.
All approved projects must be completed by Public Works.
The amount of capital funds released for 2013 is anticipated to be $449,914. The funding that would be available for 2014 is unknown, but if 2013 serves as a gauge, that’s not a lot to work with. According to the 2012 Action Plan for the City of Santa Barbara, a total of $281,146 of CDBG capital funds was allocated in 2012 to …”install access ramps in low-income neighborhoods, to install bus shelters at bus stops in low- income neighborhoods, improve safety by installing upgraded lights and benches at the Westside Community Center, redesigning the existing bathrooms in order to make them ADA accessible at the Westside Center, and replacing the storm drain at the Cabrillo Ballfield.”
In the past, the city allocated some CDBG capital funds to non-profits to make repairs to their buildings or upgrade facilities. For the 2014-2013 cycle, the expectation is that all CDBG capital monies would go to traffic improvements on the Eastside.