Jobs, Housing Key Concerns at State of the City Presentation

In her first State of the City address and in the wake of two of the worst disasters the area has ever faced, Santa Barbara Mayor Cathy Murillo said she is committed to creating more jobs and housing. 

The city’s 50th mayor, elected in November, also told an audience at the Lobero Theater on March 8 that the vacant former Macy’s building and current Off 5th Sak’s building, both on State Street, “are strong candidates for housing.” 

She said the Sak’s building is now owned by Hotel Californian developer Michael Rosenfeld. The Sak’s Off 5th reportedly was to be closed last year. However, a few months later it reportedly was purchased by a “private investor.”   

Murillo told the audience that 27 store fronts on State Street are vacant, but the city’s fast-track business approval plan has cut down the wait time for 30 percent of the proposals to start up enterprises there. 

The mayor also noted that the planned Target store on State and La Cumbre streets will be mostly a pick-up point for the merchandise it sells. She did not mention that very little parking space exists around that site. 

While Murillo spent some time addressing the Thomas fire and subsequent Montecito mudslide, a great deal of time was focused on the never-ending homeless and vagrant problem that plagues the State Street corridor from Cabrillo Boulevard to Sola Street. This problem has been roundly blamed for the decline of retail on the city’s most visible commercial district. 

The mayor said volunteer police and ambassadors have helped move many homeless off State Street. However, any passerby can see that the problem still exists. 

City Administrator Paul Casey said Santa Barbara lost some $1 million a day during the disasters, which began in early December and stretched into mid-January. 

He noted that the city’s voter-approved 1 percent sales tax increase will begin April 1. However, with the changing times for retail, sales tax revenue for the city may not keep up with its anticipated 1 to 2 percent annual growth. 

Ironically, Casey said, the city’s bed tax increased during the disasters because evacuated residents and emergency crews needed somewhere to stay. 

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