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End of redevelopment challenges cities to focus on new ways to grow

By   /   Friday, February 3rd, 2012  /   Comments Off on End of redevelopment challenges cities to focus on new ways to grow

The sudden demise of California’s redevelopment agencies continues to send shock waves across the Tri-Counties.

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The sudden demise of California’s redevelopment agencies continues to send shock waves across the Tri-Counties. From Atascadero and Arroyo Grande to Goleta, Santa Barbara and Thousand Oaks, cities are scrambling to make up for lost revenue.

This is a situation that defies one-size-fits-all solutions. But after listening to a number of business and government leaders up and down the Central Coast, a few common ideas are beginning to emerge.

Santa Barbara, and perhaps others, could benefit from a downtown summit that brings stakeholders together to chart the future of its arts-entertainment-shopping district. Businesses, politicians and community activists all have an interest in a thriving State Street corridor that maintains the look and feel of RDA-era projects, including brick-paved sidewalks, planting boxes and buried utilities. How improvements will be funded in the future, what role businesses will play and how safety and affordable housing issues will be addressed should be part of the dialogue. As the region’s central hub for tourism, Santa Barbara has many of the pieces in place to chart a post-RDA course and its ideas should be helpful region-wide.

With smaller downtowns that were heavily dependent on RDA funding for revitalization efforts, Arroyo Grande and Atascadero face some of the most difficult challenges in the “new normal” for California cities. A key problem is that the end of redevelopment funding gives San Luis Obispo and Paso Robles a bit of a competitive advantage. But actions that greatly benefit SLO and Paso Robles at the expense of Atascadero and Arroyo Grande run counter to the win-win philosophy that’s been a hallmark of San Luis Obispo County in the post-recession era. Fortunately, SLO County has an economic development strategic plan and a countywide organization, the SLO-EVC, to help chart a way forward.

In Thousand Oaks, City Manager Scott Mitnick has made a lot of noise about the end of his RDA and its impact on the revitalization of Thousand Oaks Boulevard. He’s correct — but only in part. Thousand Oaks still has tremendous revenue generating capacity from its auto mall, from The Oaks shopping center and the Westlake Village Promenade. In a perfect political world, the end of the RDA would push the City Council to take another look at expanding The Lakes shopping center, allowing bigger stores, housing or movie theaters. And it would look at fast-tracking permits for other projects on T.O. Boulevard to speed the recreation of new property and sales tax revenue. Thousand Oaks has the ability to solve its post-RDA problems — if it can summon the political will.

Finally, there is Goleta, which celebrates its first 10 years as a city in 2012. The death of the RDA should breath new life into taking Old Town Goleta out of the 1960s and into the 21st century. With Citrix Online and Deckers Outdoor Corp. building new corporate campuses along the Hollister Avenue corridor, with UC Santa Barbara continuing to create wonderful spinoffs, and with the tech sector booming, revitalization of Old Town is the surest path to Goleta’s future. More workforce housing, better quality retail and perhaps a hotel-conference complex could make Old Town an economic engine for the region. But charting a new course for Old Town will take bold vision, outside capital and superior execution. That’s a lot to ask of a city that’s just emerging from startup mode and that’s been extremely cautious about economic development.

The bottom line is that the death of RDAs has the ability to allow our cities to chart new paths to the future and create new opportunities for jobs, housing and business. It will take political courage, innovation, time and capital. Communication from community to community also will be key.

• Contact Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected].

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