Bureaucracies seem to move at the speed of glacial ice, due to having many cooks arguing over recipes and ingredients.
But such crawl has some advantages, one of which is that bureaucrats get it right more often than not. Don’t get us wrong, there can be and are spectacular failures, but in general, our governments work in the best interests of the governed.
We hope that’s true, because the Santa Maria city bureaucracy is inching its way toward a revitalized downtown, and judging from the progress made so far, a good plan is in the works.
The City Council approved a Downtown Specific Plan in late 2015, and at first the plan was not very specific. Since then, various city officials and planners have put together what appears to be a winning strategy, and the blueprint for what the downtown region will be is definitely taking shape.
When planners say “downtown,” what they’re referring to consists of four blocks east and west of Main Street, and the area from Fesler Street north of Broadway to just south of the Public Library. The area also includes the Transit Center and the Hancock Terrace Apartments.
The original Downtown Specific Plan embraced a three-pronged approach, designed to encourage activities, public/private partnerships and beautification in that core area. The belief is that bringing those three things together will turn into a magnet for attracting commerce and foot traffic to the core.
Part of this effort is a product of the unfavorable reputation the downtown area has gained in recent years. To erase that image, city officials have increased the presence of police on bicycles and on foot, which are psychologically less intimidating than patrol cars.
Having made the downtown more user-friendly, city officials have now embarked on the other two phases of the revitalization plan, the partnerships and beautification.
And officials are trying something different: Rising to new heights.
Specifically, it involves permitting a vacant building at the northwest corner of Broadway and Main for a mixed-use property — the public/private partnership angle — with residences on top of commercial space in a four-story structure.
Four stories will, indeed, stand out in a city consisting of mostly one and two-story structures, but it’s what many city officials see as the optimal future profile of downtown Santa Maria. Given the cost of land in the Valley, building up instead of out makes a lot of sense.
Officials hope the four-story project will be the seed that grows into a trend, the blending of public and private spaces, thus eliminating at least some of the need for vehicular traffic in the city’s center.
This strategy is the antithesis of how California has developed over recent decades. The Santa Maria plan concentrates commerce and living spaces in the city’s core, and relies on vehicle-dependent retail in outlying areas.
If this strategy goes as planned, downtown Santa Maria will be a gem. The City Council has already approved the hiring of an architectural firm to create a streetscape blueprint, which is crucial to the objective of making downtown a place where people get out of their cars and walk around.
The streetscape plan is a work in progress, and local citizens are being asked for their input and ideas on what is needed to bring them downtown.
Having watched our city’s downtown go through various phases — some of them very discouraging — this new approach is exciting. There is promise in any revitalization. Now it’s up to city officials and us to see that the scheme works.