By Lea Boyd
A grand to-do list for 2013 took shape in a marathon Jan. 26 meeting where Carpinteria City Council members and city department directors put their heads together to plot and plan the year ahead. The strategic planning meeting for the city’s annual work program included everything from simple goals to complex challenges facing the coastal hamlet.
Law enforcement’s long-term look:
One of the large scale and long-term ideas to emerge from the meeting was Chief of Police Lt. Kelly Moore’s proposal to construct a building that would house local law enforcement and an emergency operations center. Moore cited the need for a disaster resilient building for an EOC as the motivator for building a Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department substation in place of the existing roller rink on city hall property. The current substation occupies the rear offices of the city hall building, but Moore explained that local law enforcement would benefit from having its own building and city hall would likewise benefit from the additional space now occupied by the substation.
A disaster training drill completed in 2012 underscored the need for a new EOC, Moore said. Upgrading the existing substation to meet the structural standards required to withstand a strong earthquake would likely require an expensive and unnecessary remodel of the entire building. A new, high-end EOC/substation would cost approximately $5 to $7 million, but a “perfectly adequate” structure could cost much less, Moore said. Funding still would be a challenge, he admitted, but grants could pay for a portion of the costs and the rest could be saved over time by setting city money aside annually.
Councilman Gregg Carty resurrected discussion about the relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and the community. “Is there anything we can do to make our law enforcement feel more local?” he asked.
Moore, having fielded similar questions in past meetings, said that the city should take ownership over creating the feel of a police department. The purchase of uniforms specific to Carpinteria would be expensive but would go great lengths in overcoming the perception that the deputies on duty locally are outsiders to the community, he said.
City Manager Dave Durflinger added that in order to improve the relationship between Carpinterians and their law enforcement, the deputies would need to interface more with community members. Coucilmembers discussed the possibility of launching a program similar to Santa Barbara’s “Coffee with a Cop,” that gives community members and deputies an opportunity to get to know one another.
Carpinterians––council members and city staff not excluded––tend to recall the old days of a local police force with nostalgia, often referring back to a time when everyone knew the names of the law enforcement personnel. Moore pointed to his own long years of local service in an attempt to dispel the myth that department personnel rotates quickly and deputies are often lost to better paying positions outside of town. Last year the city began publicly recognizing officers for their service within Carpinteria, which Moore described as “a good step toward knocking down that misperception that we’re just a training ground for these (deputies).”
Hotels, motels and “seedy” landlords:
During the planning meeting, the council and city staff circled back several times to the question of how to provide more and improved overnight opportunities for visitors. Discussion over plans to identify the top prospective hotel development sites in Carpinteria highlighted the potential of Tyco’s current location on Linden Avenue, which is soon to be vacant, a rear section of the Torrey pine property on Carpinteria Avenue and the former home of Prufrock’s, a popular Linden Avenue bed and breakfast that closed a few years ago.
Durflinger announced that John King, who owns the farthest east section of the Bluffs 3 property at the east end of Carpinteria Avenue, has approached the city about the possibility of developing his land. Also, he said of the proposal by Jack Theimer to develop the main portion of the Bluffs 3 property, “I wouldn’t say it’s on hold, but it’s slowed down.” He cited issues with a family trust for the lost momentum.
Councilman Gregg Carty advocated for an upgrade to the Carpinteria Avenue Motel 6, a business notorious for police calls and criminal activity. Describing the people he meets from the motel, Carty said, “Some of them are pretty scary. It’s like night and day, the type of people the Holiday Inn Express and the Motel 6 attract.” Durflinger responded that the chain’s corporate representatives had been open to dialogue with the city in the past and could be approached about reopening the Motel 6, one of two in Carpinteria, under the brand of a higher level hotel chain.
Talk of Motel 6 drew the council’s attention to an even more problematic area of the city. The strip of apartments and motels between Dump Road and Concha Loma, specifically those owned by landlord Dario Pini, came under fire for their dangerous state of disrepair, their tendency to house ne’er-do-wells and their unattractiveness. “Dario Pini is the latest slumlord that we have there,” Mayor Brad Stein said. “Anything he puts a dime in, he expects five bucks out of tomorrow.”
Pini has been cited for numerous zoning code violations, according to Community Development Director Jackie Campbell, and the city has made it a priority to monitor his properties for code violations. Zoning codes, Campbell lamented, are really just a “blunt tool” to get to the bigger social issues at play. She said that unfortunately many of the tenants in the rundown buildings fail to report the landlord’s mismanagement of the properties. Immigration status and fear of losing their housing were brought up as examples of why residents may be uncomfortable coming forward. Campbell hedged her description of the property owner by calling him a “seasoned landlord,” and Stein got a laugh from meeting attendees when he chimed in, “I’d say seedy landlord.”
Caltrans projects and their side benefits:
City permits are required for the construction of Caltrans freeway widening and interchange projects that affect Carpinteria, one of which is in progress now and two are slated to begin in the next few years. Campbell said that the city may be able to close some of the gaps in the state’s coastal trail as a component of the Caltrans work. Rincon Point to Carpinteria State Beach contains some missing trail links, and there is just enough space parallel to the railroad tracks to connect a path from the east end of Santa Claus Lane to the west end of Carpinteria Avenue.
The Linden/Casitas Interchange Project will convert a portion of the Whitney property along Highway 101 near Casitas Pass Road into roadway, but it will leave 4.5 acres unused. Campbell said that property could be deeded to the city for a community garden. The Coastal Plan requires that agricultural acreage lost must be mitigated with new ag related projects such as a community garden.
Trees, parking and oil drilling:
A draft Zone Code Update should be brought to the council soon, Campbell said. The document will give the city an opportunity to put new code in place to address issues that have arisen and are expected to arise again. Removal of trees on private property, Campbell pointed out, could be regulated should the council so desire. In the last year, Carpinteria State Beach and Union Pacific have removed old, well-loved trees within Carpinteria, but the city had no regulatory authority over the trees. Campbell said it is not uncommon for cities to require permitting for tree removals on private property, but Mayor Brad Stein voiced his preference to avoid getting involved in what property owners do with their trees.
Campbell added that parking requirements for new downtown businesses have been found to be prohibitively high. Parking workshops funded by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency should help the city identify potential changes to parking code that would be more reasonable for new businesses.
Lastly in regards to zone code updates, Campbell mentioned that current code allows onshore oil and gas drilling into onshore reserves but prohibits onshore drilling for offshore reserves. The code could be rewritten to increase or decrease local drilling regulations.
Campbell reported that the Lagunitas development on Via Real “is now going gangbusters.” Construction is underway on all 73 units, and each of the 36 condominiums in the project has been purchased. Once skeptical of the homes’ sales potential in the current economy, the city has watched as Lagunitas has accelerated its construction phasing plan given the fast rate of sales. The development, Campbell added, will improve our property tax base, provide development impact fee funds, support schools, add to Carpinteria’s population and provide affordable housing units.
Park plans and park dreams:
Park improvements that were put on the city’s back burner due to lack of funding could gain momentum in 2013 with the availability of new designated funds from Development Impact Fees. Parks and Recreation Department Director Matt Roberts briefly presented on plans to upgrade Memorial Park, on Santa Ynez Avenue, by adding native plants, a jogging trail, barbecue areas and a fenced off-leash area for dogs. Councilmembers remarked on the need for off-leash areas for dogs, and Durflinger noted that the city could also consider designating a stretch of lesser used beach, such as areas on the east end of the city, as off-leash zones for dogs.
Roberts reminded the council of plans originally brought up a few years ago for “Seaside Park,” a micro-park on the corner of Carpinteria and Maple avenues. While Councilman Al Clark said he would support upgrades to the Seaside site as a priority for available parks monies, Mayor Brad Stein said that park funds should be prioritized for improvements at the city’s highest use park, El Carro.
The last few links required to connect the Coastal Vista Trail from Viola Fields to Bluffs 3 on the east end of Carpinteria Avenue will require some work on the city’s part, Roberts and Durflinger explained. Most of the sections of trail have been strategically obtained over several years when property owners along that section of bluffs go through the development permitting process. Because the owners of the last segments, including the S&S Seeds property and its neighboring lot, have not approached the city with proposed changes, Durflinger said, “Now we’re going to have to bite the bullet and get it done independent of development.” The owner of the S&S Seeds building lives outside of California, but the city will work on obtaining an easement for a trail on that land and the undeveloped lot next door.
Roberts presented something of a wish list to the council, including a stairway down to Jelly Bowl Beach replacing a relic pipeline, improvements to the eroded main path to Jelly Bowl, railroad undercrossings at Calle Ocho and Holly or Elm avenues.
Vacant property running along the south side of the railroad tracks between Linden and Elm avenues is the newest object of desire for Roberts. Whether Union Pacific is willing to sell, and at what price, is still an unknown, but three homeowners whose properties back up to the tracks between Elm and Holly avenues are currently in discussions with the railroad company to purchase that section of land. The city, which now owns the former Union Pacific property on the other side of the tracks and is currently considering what type of park amenities to put there, recognizes the potential for additional recreational space or added parking on the strip of land between Linden and Holly avenues.
Public Works and its great grants:
Under the leadership of Director Charlie Ebeling, the city’s Public Works Department has been highly successful in securing grants for local projects. Ebeling reported that last year five grants amounting to $550,000 were obtained, and nine new grant applications are under consideration now.
The Carpinteria Avenue bridge over Carpinteria Creek must be replaced soon, Ebeling said, as Caltrans has deemed it structurally unfit. A federal program will pay nearly 90 percent of the $10 million estimated cost to replace it. The new bridge will be key to reducing flood risk in Carpinteria, particularly when the highway widening project replaces the upstream bridges and leaves the Carpinteria Avenue bridge as the last major impediment to water flow.
Emergencies, economic stimulus and a look ahead:
Julie Jeakle, the city’s volunteer and emergency services coordinator, said that a neighbor to neighbor program will be launched this year to improve disaster preparedness within Carpinteria neighborhoods. The city will work on identifying and developing leaders who are willing to initiate dialogue among their neighbors to improve disaster resilience. According to Jeakle, studies indicate that more connected neighborhoods respond and recover more quickly in an emergency.
This year, the city council will consider greenlighting a contracted report on the state of the economy that is expected to cost between $2,500 and $3,500. Work to promote economic vitality includes ongoing television advertisement, development of new print ads for First Friday events, the launch of a Welcome Wagon packet program that provides resource materials to new residents, and the identification of the top three available prospective hotel development sites in Carpinteria
City Manager Dave Durflinger looked ahead to projects that city officials should be aware of on the more distant horizon. The current community visioning plan maps out and guides decisions for the city’s future through 2020. In 2014, he said, the city will begin preparing for a visioning process to commence in 2015 and provide direction for 2020 through 2040. Also, the City of Carpinteria will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2015, and Durflinger proposed that a committee be formed in 2014 to plan activities surrounding the anniversary.
Items of concern to residents:
Jason Lesh of the Carpinteria Skate Foundation announced that the nonprofit had identified a potential large donor to help fund a skatepark should the city decide on approving such a use for the newly purchased Fifth Street property adjacent to the Amtrak station.
Rochelle Terry, a Malibu Drive resident, commented that the storm drain behind her home and 11 other residences is in a terrible state of disrepair and is a flood waiting to happen. Public Works Director Charlie Ebeling called the situation “a tough one” because of difficulties determining who owns the drain and what should become of it. Mayor Brad Stein called it a priority to determine a suitable fix for the deteriorating infrastructure.
George Lehtinen proposed a solution to the high commercial vacancy rate in downtown Carpinteria. He advised the city to launch a program to encourage new businesses by working with landlords to drop the rental rate to $1 per square foot for the first year of tenancy. Additionally, he said, the city could waive its fees to support new businesses.
Jason Rodriguez, a resident of Holly Avenue, pointed out that his section of the street between Sawyer and Carpinteria avenues is in need of a sidewalk and storm drains. Currently, the situation is dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists.