Residents heard updates from Assemblymember Steve Bennett, city officials
The Solvang Chamber of Commerce held its State of the City address on Saturday, taking time to reflect on the last fiscal year and outline goals for the future.
Assemblymember Steve Bennett, D-Ventura, opened Saturday’s meeting as the keynote speaker, addressing a group of community members and business owners gathered in the city’s Veterans Memorial Hall. He reflected on some of his first visits to Solvang about four years ago, noting that the city has maintained its charm and sense of community.
“From being back here from time to time, I’ve seen how well you’ve maintained the quality of life here and the things that make you special and unique,” Mr. Bennett said. “That’s really what community’s about — community is not about how many strip malls you have, it’s about the character and quality and sense of community, and you’ve done that far better than most people.”
During his remarks, the assemblyman outlined a few actions he plans to take on behalf of the City of Solvang.
He said he would start by working with Caltrans to make sure they are “more cooperative” with the city when it comes to improvements on State Route 246. Mr. Bennett said he’s had success coordinating with Caltrans in Ojai, and hopes to form a similar connection in Solvang.
The assemblymember also ensured residents that he would see what he could do in regards to improvements for the Solvang Senior Center, which is currently running a campaign to raise funds for a new building.
During his speech, Mr. Bennett presented a resolution in honor of the Solvang Chamber of Commerce’s 100th anniversary this year. Tracy Beard, the executive director of the chamber, and Mayor Charlie Uhrig accepted the honor from the assemblymember.
Following Mr. Bennett’s remarks, George Leis, the chief operating officer of Montecito Bank & Trust, told residents about the bank’s allocation of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans throughout the pandemic.
The bank conducted two rounds of PPP allocations during the pandemic. In the first round, the bank provided about $207 million in loans to more than 1,800 loans to businesses, and in the second round, it provided $130 million in loans to more than 1,700 businesses, Mr. Leis said.
In the Santa Ynez Valley in particular, Mr. Leis said the bank provided loans for about 165 small businesses, which account for about $20 million of the bank’s total allocation.
After a tough pandemic year for businesses, Mr. Leis said business owners have continuously said that without the PPP loans, their business would not have survived.
“Small business owners would call me, stop me in the street and say ‘if it weren’t for that PPP loan, we wouldn’t have been able to keep our employees on site and our businesses afloat,” Mr. Leis said.
Attendees to Saturday’s meeting also viewed a pre-recorded presentation from Mayor Uhrig and City Manager Xenia Bradford, which overviewed the city’s fiscal year and spending.
In the 2021-2022 fiscal year, the city is allocating $23 million in expenditures. Of the $23 million, 26% is going to water expenses, 23% to general government expenses and 17% to the city’s Capital Investment Program.
According to city officials, over 50% of the city’s funding for public safety, roads, parks and recreation come from tourism taxes. With the pandemic largely barring tourism throughout 2020, the city saw a significant decrease in the amount of transient occupancy tax collected in the 2019-2020 fiscal year.
Fortunately, the city started to see an increase in transient occupancy tax revenues in the 2020-2021 fiscal year, though totals are still lagging behind pre-pandemic revenues, according to Saturday’s presentation.
Looking ahead to the next fiscal year, the mayor and city administrator told residents that they are focusing efforts on upgrading the city’s wastewater treatment plant, which will expand the life of the plant for another 30 years.
The city is also looking to complete upgrades to Hans Christian Andersen Park and Solvang Park, with additional plans to unveil a new Bike Pump Track in the city over the next fiscal year.
At the conclusion of the State of the City event, Ms. Beard from the Chamber of Commerce thanked small business owners and local residents for creating a “wonderful community” in the city.
“This community is built on all of you, all of our residents,” Ms. Beard said. “We are a community of churches and businesses. We have a great hospital here. We have a thriving business community of tourism. We have a great business community of accountants, CPAs, lawyers, attorneys. That is what community is about.”