Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo delivered the annual State of the City address virtually on Wednesday evening, reflecting on the past year and delivering a hopeful outlook for the future.
Speaking from the newly renovated Cabrillo Arts Pavillion, the mayor recalled moments over the last year of the pandemic, noting the hardships the COVID-19 crisis caused for many individuals in the community.
“All of us in Santa Barbara and throughout the state, country and world have experienced hardships and challenges this past year during the pandemic,” Ms. Murillo said.
“This past year has been a test of our strength and resolve,” she later added. “This community has faced crisis and disaster before, but we are a resilient community. We have overcome hardships. This pandemic has shown our interconnectedness as a community and the important contribution of all of its members.”
During the address, the mayor acknowledged various actions the City Council took over the last year to address prominent issues in the city, such as homelessness, the housing crisis, criminal justice reform, infrastructure upgrades and climate change.
The mayor said that the pandemic “exacerbated” the city’s homeless and housing crisis, which led city officials to spearhead an effort to address encampments across the city, particularly in high fire hazard areas. Their response included allocating $1.6 million in Socioeconomic Mitigation Program reserve funds to relocate unhoused individuals to the Rose Garden Inn through a new pilot program.
Thus far, the program has relocated 40 individuals to a temporary shelter at the inn and reduced several high-priority camps, according to the mayor.
Ms. Murillo also covered the city’s efforts to start a civilian police review system, discussing how the city supported the creation of a Community Formation Commission.
The commission is composed of 15 members who recently completed ethics training and will soon begin outreach to determine what oversight model is best for the city.
In addition, the mayor highlighted the ongoing work of the city’s Parks & Recreation Department, which included landscaping improvements, accessibility upgrades and the installation of new sports field turf at Bohnett Park. Projects also include improvements to the Louise Lowry Davis Center and MacKenzie Park.
Over the next year, Parks & Recreation will focus on upgrading the bandshell at Plaza Del Mar Park, completing upgrades at East Side Neighborhood Park and advancing revitalization efforts at Ortega Park and Dwight Murphy Fields.
The mayor added that through the engagement of community stakeholders, council members came up with a plan to preserve the murals at Ortega Park that they hope to fund through state park grants.
During her address, Ms. Murillo also acknowledged the City Council’s adoption of its first three-year Economic Development Plan, which aimed to strengthen the city’s economy, support businesses and encourage community investment. She mentioned the city’s development of an advisory committee that will determine the future of the State Street promenade, which many businesses benefited from during the pandemic.
“The city knows the importance of providing high-quality services, investing in community spaces and infrastructure that our residents and visitors enjoy, as well as thoughtful planning for our future,” she said.
Looking toward the future, the mayor said Wednesday that the city is making significant progress on two key projects.
The first is the development of the city’s new police station, which is expected to be completed in 2025. According to the mayor, the project is on track to make it through the CEQA environmental review process this fall after the Planning Commission and Architectural Board of Review paved the way for the project design to be submitted in June. The mayor said the project is on track to start construction in late 2022 or early 2023.
The second project the city is making progress on is the De La Guerra Revitalization Concept Plan, which has undergone two design reviews by the Historic Landmarks Commission.
If the design is approved, the City Hall portion that faces Anacapa Street would undergo renovations to create a water-wise landscape design that would connect to the front of City Hall.
In addition to these ongoing projects, the mayor explained that looking toward the future the city remains focused on maintaining a strong water reserve, adjusting zoning laws to provide for housing needs in the community and staying on the road to economic recovery.
“Just as we overcome the pandemic together, we can only walk the road to recovery together,” Ms. Murillo said. “The government has the ability to point us in the direction we need to go, but for meaningful outcomes, we have to turn toward the common effort of advancing the common good. This is how we can redefine public safety, advance racial justice and imagine the public spaces of the future.”
In her closing remarks, she expressed gratitude to the first responders, doctors and nurses who have maintained the community’s health and safety during the pandemic, thanking the staff at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital for their continued work.
Following the mayor’s presentation, City Administrator Paul Casey delivered brief remarks about the economic standing of the city. According to city data, the city lost nearly $35 million in revenue during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The city experienced about $9.4 million in Transient Occupancy Tax losses and $9.3 million in sales tax losses.
Fortunately, the city identified more than $6 million in expenditure reductions in the fiscal year 2020 and fiscal year 2021 to balance the budget, Mr. Casey said. By undergoing this budget reduction and strategically using reserved funds, the city produced a balanced budget for this fiscal year and maintained its triple-A bond rating.
“For a coastal community, tourist-related, this is no small feat,” Mr. Casey said.
To aid in the region’s recovery, the City Council will determine how to utilize the second round of American Rescue Plan Act funds that are anticipated to be allocated sometime next year, Mr. Casey said. In the first installment, the city received about $10.9 million in funds in May and decided to use all of the funding to rebuild the city’s general fund reserve.
In the conclusion of his remarks, Mr. Casey reflected on his seven years as city administrator, noting that this is the last time he will be participating in the State of the City.
His last day as city administrator is today.
“Together we have accomplished a lot that we can be proud of, and together we can face the challenges going forward and take advantage of opportunities to make Santa Barbara even better,” Mr. Casey said.