CARPINTERIA, Calif. - Carpinteria is holding itself together according to local leaders and economists even thought its piece of the economic picture on the Central Coast was fractured by the recent disasters.
A State of the Community lunch was held Friday at the Rincon Beach Club, attended by 127 residents and area officials.
Overall the city has some serious economic challenges beyond the disaster and may be asking voters on the November ballot to approve a one and a quarter percent sales tax increase to make ends meet.
The city has many growing shortfalls when it comes to road and bikeway improvements, along with the cost of law enforcement. The voters may be asked to approve a 1.25 percent sales tax increase if it is placed on the November ballot. That should be decided in the next few months based on the results of a recent survey. If the tax passes it will generate 2.3 million dollars a year.
"And what that will do will be to give us the $1.5 million we need to start fixing our roads and our surface streets and our infrastructure and all of that. It will still leave 800 thousand," said Carpinteria Mayor Fred Shaw. He said many of the city streets were in poor condition prior to the storms and debris removal efforts involving numerous truck trips. Now they are worse. Extra money from the tax increase, if supported, will be available for other needs including additional work prior to the next winter storm season.
Peter Rupert with the UC Santa Barbara Economic Forecast said he will be doing a new survey to find out more about the post disaster business stability.
He also says in Carpinteria and regionally, the buying trends are changing and businesses will need to adjust.
"My belief is retail will be disrupted for awhile. We have to get used to that. What's going to happen is we don't have too many stores, we have the wrong stores. People are not going downtown for transaction purposes anymore, they are going down for entertainment," said Rupert.
The word on the streets here is that some businesses barely hung on in the winter and are hoping summer will save them.
Despite back to back disasters in December and January economists say Carpinteria did not lose any businesses because of the economic setback. Many are struggling however, and some employees lost jobs due to downsizing and the falloff in business.
On average, a study shows a loss of 13 days for stores and restaurants that were impacted.
Shaw says he often talks with business owners to get a better understanding of what they are facing, what their needs are and if there is something more the city can do to encourage a vibrant local economy.
The city is also being impacted by the on going bridge reconstruction and future freeway widening projects over the next several years. The current project however, is on a faster track than originally scheduled. In the current phase, the Linden bridge closure is set to begin this month as part of a full replacement.
In the end, city leaders say this should unjam many surface streets.
Funding for the state will also pay for new improvements to the train station platform, a walkway under the tracks at Holly Street and more bike routes between Santa Claus lane and the Rincon.
The area, like many cities, will also be challenged by library funding which is well below what it costs to operate a library even with some financial help from the county. County Supervisor Das Williams says, " so the question before us is how do we operate a $390- thousand library with $147-thousand dollars less money."
Carpinteria is also influence by the impacts of marijuana with multiple large cannabis operations not in the city but just outside of the limits. There are no approved medical or recreational businesses and the staff is looking at regulations for related issues like delivery services and the highly controversial offsite odors. More cannabis permits have come in from the Carpinteria Valley than any other location in the county, according to a recent staff report.
Unemployment in the area is low and commercial occupancy especially in the industrial area is solid, boosted by companies that are flourishing including Procore Industries, Linkedin and many new technology companies.
Carpinteria has a low major crime rate but about 30 percent of its budget pays for services provided by the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's department.
At the waterfront, despite some despair over the amount of debris washed out from the hills, the beaches have recovered, and they are clean again. For weeks it was frustrating, but nature has cleansed what is called "The World's Safest Beach."
Prior to the luncheon, Office of Emergency management Director Rob Lewin and his staff were awarded for their efforts with the front line response and community messages during the recent disasters.