The Santa Barbara City Council heard a report Tuesday about recently completed capital improvements and projects currently in design or construction, but their main concern seemed to be understaffing in the Department of Public Works.
City Engineer Brian D’Amour told council members the DPW has a lot more vacancies than usual.
“It’s one of the challenges we are facing,” Mr. Amour said. “Staffing has been a challenge. It’s harder to deliver the slate of projects on our sale.”
And even when the DPW hires people to fill those vacancies, some of the new staffers don’t have much experience, he said.
“It takes time to bring them up to speed,” he said.
Several council members praised the DPW and its Engineering Division for doing a great job with the staff it has.
“It’s great work that you’re doing,” Councilmember Eric Friedman said. “And it’s noticeable to city residents.”
As for the staff shortage, he noted, “It is important to take steps to address it. Every city department is facing these types of challenges.”
He asked Mr. D’Amour if the DPW contracts out a lot to consultants to fill the gap, especially when it comes to design.
“We do some in-house design work, but the vast majority of the (design) work we do is contracted out,” Mr. D’Amour said.
The city, however, provides oversight on all projects.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon said DPW’s staff shortage must be addressed.
“You’re doing more with less,” she said. “You’re spread increasingly thin … and it’s taking a toll on morale and staff. Just because you’ve been doing it doesn’t mean it can be continued.”
Earlier, council members heard a presentation by Mr. D’Amour on various completed capital improvement projects, plus projects where work is ongoing or in the design phase.
One project in particular drew councilmembers’ interest: the replacement of the Union Pacific Railroad bridge on Cabrillo Boulevard.
Councilmember Sneddon asked about how much of the projected $35 million cost will be borne by the city. Mr. D’Amour said it won’t be city-funded, but paid for by the California Department of Transportation.
Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez quizzed Mr. D’Amour about how much input the city would have about the design of the new railroad bridge. “It annoys me that we don’t have a more appealing bridge style,” Mr. Gutierrez said, adding that most railroad bridges are “eyesores” that clash with the communities they’re located in.
Mr. D’Amour said the city doesn’t have much say when it comes to bridge aesthetics.
“I wish we had more say in that process,” Mr. D’Amour said, but “several changes in design are coming from Union Pacific.”
Although this particular topic was not a capital improvement project, Mayor Randy Rowse asked the city’s DPW director, Cliff Maurer, what the city is doing to control a rat problem on State Street.
It’s an issue brought to light by The Natural Cafe owner Kelly Brown, who announced he was closing his downtown restaurant in part because of the presence of rats lured by food being dropped by people dining at the outdoor parklets.
“We have an ongoing rodent control program,” including the use of traps, Mr. Maurer said. “We are taking all appropriate actions to take care of it,”
He added that the city did a deep cleaning of State Street three months ago, with another deep cleaning planned to take place before Thanksgiving, in an effort to clean up food and debris that attract rats.
In other business, the City Council met earlier Tuesday in a special session to conduct a public employee performance evaluation concerning embattled City Attorney Ariel Pierre Calonne.
The city attorney was placed on paid administrative leave several months ago because of an incident that occurred in his office at City Hall. Councilmembers and City Administrator Rebecca Bjork have declined to discuss the matter.
Asked if the council made a decision whether to reinstate Mr. Calonne, fire him or keep him on paid leave, Mayor Rowse responded: “Still in no-comment land.”