For decades, Old Town Goleta has been caught in a perpetual loop of civic concern and discussion that has yet to produce any meaningful change.

Earlier this year, the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, Old Town property owners and the Goleta business community proposed an initiative that would create a significant, ongoing funding source for improvements. Not only would this proposal help businesses thrive, it would enhance the unique character of this special and historic neighborhood.

The proposal — a possible Property Business Improvement District, or PBID — had the buy-in from many businesses, the City’s professional staff and the property owners who would be paying the assessment. Crucially, the City of Goleta would own the oversight of the program.

Sadly, on Feb. 5, the Goleta City Council opted to keep Old Town Goleta in its current state. That’s disappointing.

The Council balked at moving forward after a misleading campaign against the proposal by a group of opponents, who accused the Goleta Chamber of Commerce of favoring Old Town gentrification and chain stores over mom-and-pop shops and small businesses that are the heart — and soul — of the Chamber’s membership.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Kristen Miller, the Chamber’s president and CEO, testified at the Council meeting, directly addressing the opponents’ attacks.

“The Chamber has been the only champion for small business in Old Town for decades.”

Two Old Town small business owners, both Chamber board members, testified as well. Anne Pazier, owner of Santa Barbara Gift Baskets, and Hallie Avolio, co-owner of Latitude 34˚ Technologies, reassured the Council that small business is at the core of the Chamber’s public-private partnership with the City.

But, in the face of angry accusations that included repugnant references to the Chamber and its nearly 450 member businesses promoting the “raping and pillaging” of the community, the Council opted to ask for yet more research and studies.

As a result of this inaction, the Chamber is tabling the PBID discussion for now. Our Old Town Business Committee, which includes businesses, property owners, nonprofit organizations and City representatives, will continue to work on programs funded by the City’s General Fund. And the committee will continue to explore events, marketing, networking and advocacy to support the Old Town community.

Larger projects — like landscaping and an employee parking lot — will just have to wait. Again.

Background: 

Four years ago, the Goleta Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Directors took the initiative to start looking at new ways to enhance Old Town. There was growing pressure from our Chamber members and from the community to make visible and positive improvements to the one neighborhood in Goleta that seemed to be left behind. We worked with the City of Goleta on a program of research, relationships and recommendations. We told the City that our goal was to come back with a “big picture plan,” when we were ready.

At the City’s economic development subcommittee and in meetings with the City Manager, the long-debated topic of whether to pursue a business improvement district (BID) in Old Town was once again discussed. The City Council put it in its Strategic Plan to investigate a BID and the Chamber’s Old Town Business Committee budgeted an initial study to examine the data.

The Chamber hired Civitas, the leading professional firm specializing in municipal district formation, to do an initial feasibility study.

Research and Data:

The Chamber hired Downtown Works to conduct a retail study of Old Town and presented the findings at a City Council meeting and at one of our Old Town Business Summit events.

The Chamber hired Chris Beynon, a nationally recognized urban planner from MIG, to give a keynote address on best practices for revitalization in downtowns that create a sense of place and do not trigger gentrification.

Beynon held a workshop with Old Town stakeholders to define the visions for the future and set up program ideas for creating a sense of place and restoring Old Town to Goleta’s actual downtown.

Over the last two years, the Chamber staff and Chamber Ambassadors went door-to-door to businesses in our regular “Old Town Walks,” meeting and talking with business owners and workers in Old Town.

During the walks, the Chamber surveyed 96 businesses to gather data and information on the challenges and opportunities they face. The top two priorities of the businesses surveyed were very distinct: parking and beautification.

The City of Goleta later completed a community outreach survey with a professional polling company. Among the findings: 88 percent of Goleta residents said they want to see improvements in Old Town.

The Chamber again hired Civitas, this time to conduct a feasibility study to determine if a business improvement district or property business improvement district would be feasible. The results, which were shared with the City, concluded that a PBID would provide a more stable source of funding from willing participants who can support a long-term return on investment. The company recommend asking property owners to contribute, not business owners.

 

Property Improvement District Proposal:

The Old Town Business committee met with businesses and property owners to start designing a program, and vigorous discussions ensued on what projects the PBID might fund.

For the record, a PBID is a defined area within which property owners pay a assessment to fund projects within the district’s boundaries. Business improvement districts are a common tool throughout the United States and a popular method for enhancing neighborhoods.

The Old Town Goleta version would include an assessment on the property owner, not the business storefront. The reason for this is that the property owners have a longer-term horizon for return on their investment and should realize a long-term benefit from the improvements.

Some ideas for PBID projects include landscaping, employee parking, beautification and community grants.

 

The City Council Decides:

The City of Goleta asked to be part of the contract with Civitas, to take the next step in forming a PBID. Under the terms of the $52,000 contract, the cost would be split with the Chamber. The City’s economic development subcommittee approved the proposed contract and sent it to the City Council with a recommendation for approval.

Faced with a mob of opponents denouncing the PBID and the Goleta Chamber of Commerce, the City Council on Feb. 5, 2019, referred the proposal back to the economic development subcommittee to be looked at “sometime in the next year.”