While the federal government chugs along like a broken-down jalopy, local government seems to be hitting on all cylinders.
The Santa Maria City Council has finally signed off on construction of a four-story, mixed-use building planned for the northwest corner of West Main and Broadway.
That spot happens to be the crossroads of two major local roadways, Highways 166 and 135. It also happens to be right at the heart of Santa Maria’s downtown, and an integral part of a major effort to revitalize the community’s core.
The council’s action last week follows a lengthy debate over whether the project would be allowed. An earlier version of the proposal was rejected because city officials worried about the availability of adequate parking. After developers made the agreed-upon tweaks, the project is now back on track.
In fact, signing off on this building plan is a significant piece of the downtown rebirthing process, in large part because the four-story structure will house living spaces in the upper floors, and businesses down below.
That will be a darn sight better than what occupies the space right now — an aging building that was once a gas station, which morphed into a stereo shop, but now sits abandoned and forlorn. That is most definitely not what city officials had in mind when they launched the revitalization effort.
Mayor Alice Patino called approval of the four-story building a “great first step” in what is hoped will be a complete reinvention of the downtown area, which has lately fallen on hard times made significantly worse by the Great Recession.
The revitalization effort also is a counterpoint to many retailers fleeing to the city’s outskirts, a form of sprawl for which California has become famous — or infamous, depending on your perspective.
With the parking issue resolved, the proposal fleshes out to the top three floors being comprised of 27 one and two-bedroom apartments. Depending on demand, the plan is flexible enough that the second floor could be converted into more office spaces.
If this all goes as planned, such a building could be the magnet that helps attract more interest to the downtown area. Eventually, city officials would like to create a cozy, safe, boutique-like vibe which could attract locals and visitors to the core, and the more people there are shopping and stopping in at sidewalk-style bistros, the less attractive the area might become for opportunistic criminals. There is, for sure, safety in numbers.
That’s another objective of the downtown revitalization strategy. Thwarting crime, especially gang-related crime, has been at the top of the city’s priorities list for several years. The last thing a community like Santa Maria needs is a negative, visitor-unfriendly image.
Council member Mike Cordero expressed some concern about the new project’s viability, worried that it may not turn out to be the business/visitor magnet officials are hoping it to be.
There is always that possibility with any business venture, especially one in which bureaucrats play such a key role. But the fact is that every plan needs a seed, one that could eventually grow into a tree and bear fruit.
Our belief is the city really can’t lose by approving such a project. Anything that heightens the probability of people going downtown is a step in the right direction.
It is clear — and inevitable — that communities change, and not everyone will approve of what the changes are, and what they may mean to our lifestyle. It is also clear that the future has to start somewhere.