SANTA BARBARA — The State Department of Finance decided to allow Santa Barbara to keep seven parking lots that it once asked the city to sell. The state requested seven lots, including three large parking structures be sold off to the highest bidder in order to recoup some of the money the former Redevelopment Agency spent on the capital projects. But on Tuesday, the state changed its mind. “So that’s fabulous news for the city, for the local businesses, for the downtown core. We’re ecstatic,” said Mayor Helene Schneider.Santa Barbara City leaders along with Assemblymember Das Williams and a representative for Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson addressed the Department of Finance in Sacramento last month. They argued that the public parking lots play an essential governmental purpose and ownership should be kept with the city.Now for sale signs won’t be seen on public parking lots. “We will not be losing our parking lots. We’ll be able to continue operating as we always have, giving the customers of Santa Barbara, all the visitors first class, convenient, safe, clean parking facilities,” said Victor Garza, parking superintendent. Downtown businesses subsidize some of their customers’ parking, meaning the first 75 minutes are free. This was the key reason the state agreed to allow the city to transfer the lots and garages from the former RDA to the City of Santa Barbara. “So the state Department of Finance was very clear that because of the local businesses who have been contributing towards the maintenance and operations and capital improvements to the lots since 1971, they looked at that saying, ‘You’re right. This is a public-private partnership, this is something that can be deemed governmental purpose.’ So we’re thrilled. We’re just thrilled,” explained Schneider. Now that the lots won’t be sold off, the parking lot operators hired by the city that collect the tickets and fees, are staying. “We range between 100, 120 employees at any one time. They’re all part-time employees ranging from students to retirees,” said Garza. With the go-ahead from the state this week, the Santa Barbara City Council will finalize the transfer of the parking lots during next Tuesday’s meeting. There are still two lots in question that the state hasn’t allowed for a transfer of ownership at this time. The city will need to map out a long range management plan for the railroad depot lot and a small park property on Bath Street, but Mayor Schneider said she believes the city is on the right path to acquire those properties.
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