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Santa Maria's General Plan: Officials seek input about the future of a changing city

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A local jogger takes the path through Preisker park Friday evening in Santa Maria.

A jogger takes the path through Preisker Park Friday evening in Santa Maria. While giving feedback regarding the city's General Plan, Santa Maria residents identified parks and public services as some of the strengths of the city, and traffic congestion and safety as issues that need to change. 

With population, community values and housing affordability changing and growing in Santa Maria, the city is in the process of updating its major blueprint for land use and development — the General Plan. 

Taking into account elements of mobility, environmental justice, safety, noise, conservation, open space, housing and air quality, the General Plan is required by state law to be updated every 10 to 15 years in collaboration with local residents. 

The city is in the second stage of the multiyear updating process, which began in the spring, and has been developing a long-term vision and guiding principles by gathering community input since summer.

In the future, the city will create General Plan alternatives, develop plan policies and finally, by 2023, review and adopt the plan. 

"The city needs to plan ahead for the next several decades to accommodate future job and population growth, and will do so through the identified phases of the General Plan update process," said Dana Eady, principal planner for the City of Santa Maria. 

While some elements of the plan remain relevant, others have not been touched for decades. According to the General Plan, the Housing element was last amended in 2015, Land Use and Circulation were last amended in 2011, and Safety, which outlines electrical and flood hazards, was last amended in 1995.

In order to gauge needed areas of change in the community, the city recently began gathering feedback from residents on a variety of topics, from parks and medical services to traffic safety and how friendly local residents are. 

Community input

The city's first survey efforts for the process lasted from July to September, with recently-published results indicating great interest in natural scenery, recreational space, and public services. 

Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, surveys were conducted digitally, and Zoom workshops are planned to take place in the coming days. 

A dog and owner use the designated path along Minami Community Park Friday evening in Santa Maria.

A dog and owner walk the designated path through Minami Community Park Friday evening in Santa Maria. While giving feedback regarding the city's General Plan, Santa Maria residents identified parks and public services as some of the strengths of the city, and traffic congestion and safety as issues that need to change. 

"Input from residents of the city is extremely important in understanding what areas are most valuable to city residents - housing, jobs, economy, public facility improvements, transit, etcetera - and this information will assist in the long term vision of the city," said Eady.

The Qualities and Changes survey gathered responses from approximately 600 residents about the existing qualities of the city, the experience of living and working in the city, and the importance of future changes.

When asked about qualities of Santa Maria that are important to preserve in the next 20 years, the majority of residents identified public services, such as schools and local government, natural scenery, parks and trails and housing affordability.

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When asked about the most important changes needed in the city, residents identified access to healthy lifestyles and medical services, affordable housing, and infrastructure to support growth.

Residents were also asked about moving forward during the COVID-19 pandemic, with around 60% expressing interest in transforming certain streets as gathering spaces for outdoor dining and exercise. 

Santa Maria resident Johnny Ramirez 14, practices at the Atkinson Community park Friday evening.

Santa Maria resident Johnny Ramirez, 14, practices at the Atkinson Community park Friday evening. In initial community surveys regarding positive and negative elements of the city, the highest number of respondents were those in the 18-and-under range. 

The overall demographics of respondents aligned closely with city demographics, according to Eady. 

In the Issues and Assets Mapping Survey, residents pinpointed elements of the city they appreciated and those they considered to be problematic on a map. The number of participants in the survey is unknown, Eady said.

City parks, the downtown area, Santa Maria Town Center and Santa Maria High School were identified as unique assets to the community, with residents also pinpointing the Hi-Way Drive-In and Crossroads Shopping Center. 

Issues that residents consistently identified included the unattractiveness of buildings and landscaping, traffic congestion on Betteravia Road between Broadway and Highway 101, unsafe crosswalks near schools, and a need for better lighting on city streets and in parking lots. 

An interactive map featuring results from the survey can be viewed at imaginesantamaria.com/community-surveys.

The freshly painted basketball courts behind the Minami Center nears completetion in Santa Maria.

The freshly painted basketball courts behind the Minami Center near completion in Santa Maria. Projects like this are made possible through community feedback regarding the city's General Plan, which is currently being updated. 

In the next stage, creating General Plan alternatives, city staff will use feedback to envision different improvements to the city in the coming years.

"The data and public input we receive will help to develop an overall vision and guiding principles. Ultimately these will lead into the development of maps reflecting future growth scenarios that include different distributions of potential land uses within the planning area," Eady said. 

Results from a recent visioning survey will also be published next week, Eady said. 

To read more about the General Plan, the update process and how to get involved, visit imaginesantamaria.com

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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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