Santa Maria officials delivered their annual State of the City report last week, and like most American communities, Santa Maria is doing pretty well overall, with a few bumps in the road.
In fact, we’d have to say there is more good news than bad, in large part because of a concerted effort by the public and private sectors to work together toward strengthening the local economy. And the strategy is paying off.
New businesses are opening their doors. The Enos Ranch commercial development is going full steam ahead. City officials report that even some businesses from other communities on the Central Coast are bringing their services to Santa Maria.
Voters had a lot to do with this surge. Last November nearly 75 percent of the turnout favored passage of Measure U, which adds a full percentage point to the city’s sales tax. Since it began in April, revenues have been growing steadily, and will grow further as Santa Maria’s star continues to shine.
Not only is the commercial sector expanding, there is solid growth in the housing development sector. The city will soon have its first market-rate apartment complex since about a quarter-century ago.
But like every vibrant, growing community, Santa Maria has a few problems to solve. Mayor Alice Patino was quick to point out the major issues in her presentation, namely ensuring an accurate census count next year, and finding the revenue needed to meet the city’s retiree pension requirements.
The pension problem is huge, but so is an overall shortage of affordable housing. The one absolute necessity for a growing economy are homes and apartments affordable enough for working-class families. This region is notorious for its sky-high housing costs, meaning a commuting challenge for many workers who either drive to the South County or into neighboring San Luis Obispo County for jobs.
Santa Maria’s expanding commercial base should help, but those jobs may go begging if people can’t afford to live where they work.
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The census count problem is nothing new to local officials, because Santa Maria has so many neighborhoods in which people simply do not want to be counted, for a variety of reasons. One of the primarily reasons is the threat of deportation.
Mayor Patino made a telling point when she explained that if just 1,000 children are not counted, that could cost the city $20 million in federal funding over the next decade.
The census is a very big deal, and efforts by the Trump administration to dilute the count with a citizenship question failed the courts’ smell test, in large part because it violates guidelines set out in the U.S. Constitution.
Santa Maria residents can help by encouraging their friends and neighbors to be counted. It will result in funding the community truly needs.
Solving the city’s pension liability woes will be difficult. Almost every city and county in California face similar problems, and as of this writing, there seem to be few workable solutions. Santa Maria’s pension expense is rising steadily, and officials expect that upward trend to continue over the next few years.
But like the summertime marine layers, once the gray disappears it’s pretty much glorious sunshine here in Santa Maria, the county’s largest city and one with almost unlimited potential for the future. All we have to do is solve a few problems.
Every city is a product of its parts — and that’s us, the people who live and work here. This team needs to concentrate on working toward an achievable, common goal.