The Santa Maria City Council prioritized projects to receive $1 million in federal funding, putting pedestrian safety repairs above Perlman Park renovations, during its meeting Tuesday. 

City departments and local agencies submitted proposals in September for annual Community Development Block Grant funds, provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In addition to $1 million for capital projects, the city expects to receive around $600,000 for public service projects, proposals for which will be considered in the coming months.

In a unanimous vote, with Councilwoman Gloria Soto absent, council members agreed to prioritize pedestrian safety repairs and move a proposal for Perlman Park renovations further down the list.

Three city departments and four local agencies submitted viable proposals totaling $1.9 million in requested funds, nearly double the amount the city expects to receive for the upcoming year. 

Because of the disparity, Community Programs Manager Rosie Rojo advised the council to prioritize specific projects from the list to give potential applicants a better idea of whether they should spend time on an application.  

"All the projects are viable, but the agency can be more aware of where they potentially fall and who they’re competing against," Rojo said. "We are estimating to get about the same [funding] as last year, but you never know, they could surprise us with twice as much." 

Projects proposed by the city included $900,000 for a new entrance, ADA-accessible playground and landscaping at Perlman Park in the city's downtown; $500,000 for pedestrian safety repairs in low- to moderate-income areas; and $15,000 in ongoing funding to cover administrative costs for the Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program.

Outside agencies requesting funds included the Boys and Girls Club of Mid Central Coast, which requested $68,500 for a new basketball court, and Good Samaritan Shelter, which is hoping to secure $258,000 for new commercial kitchen equipment in its emergency shelter.

CommUnify requested $75,000 for minor home repairs through their Safe At Home Program, and Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo County proposed $125,00 for a similar program focused on larger repairs for low-income Santa Maria residents.

In their review of proposals, some council members requested the Perlman Park project be moved further down the list of priorities since it would use the majority of the CDBG allocation. The city also spent $20,000 on renovations to the park's gazebo and walkways in 2017.

Since the park is also adjacent to a parcel of city-owned surplus land available for possible housing developments in the coming years, Mayor Alice Patino expressed concerns about rehabilitating the park before they know more about future projects in the area.

"I wouldn't mind having Perlman Park last on the list. We can last for another year [or] two years with it there. I don't know what the Downtown Specific Plan is gonna bring forward, so I’d rather not spend money on things we’re not sure of," Patino said.

Councilman Carlos Escobedo also requested that the Public Works Department's pedestrian safety improvements proposal be prioritized, since sidewalk, curb and gutter repairs are something residents have consistently requested over the years.

"This is a constant concern," he said. "It will make our communities look nicer, our neighborhoods look good, so I think it’s a really interesting project that I definitely would like to support as one of the priorities."

Due to the challenges of the pandemic, some projects that received CDBG funding during the 2020-21 funding cycle have not made the progress they anticipated or have seen projected costs climb.

Recreation and Parks Director Alex Posada said the Chapel Plaza rehabilitation project has gone back to square one due to constructability issues and rising costs after receiving around $700,000 in CDBG funds in April 2020.

"The chapel project has had its issues during the development side," Posada said. "We took some time to put the project out to a constructability firm … and the [cost] came back dramatically higher, which we weren’t prepared for.

Assistant Recreation and Parks Director Brett Fulgoni declined to give the new estimated cost for the project, stating that the city is seeking a local contractor for the project and is preparing to put it up for bid. 

Applications for 2022-23 CDBG capital project funding are due in December. The council will adopt a final list of funded projects in the spring of 2022.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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