SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - A vacant mountain top property could be the site for a new homeless and mental wellness facility with an on-the-table-financial start already in place.
The Radius Group has the St. Mary's Seminary at 1964 Las Canoas Road listed at over $14.5-million. It's a 35 acre site.
Commercial landlord Richard Berti believes in the project enough to put $435,000 down to start an escrow. He is hoping the city and county will come in with some of the newly doled out government funds to combat homelessness and together the site can be purchased and developed.
A group of about 40 politicians, city and county staff members, and those working in the field of homelessness and mental health toured the facility Wednesday morning.
"I would like to have one of these organizations to come forward now, take my place and go to these people (the current owners, an investment company) and say 'we are going to do it', we're interested but we need more time and we don't want to forfeit the money," said Berti.
The non-profit Santa Barbara Leadership Group, formed to deal with many city issues including the downtown economy and homeless impacts, is a project Berti founded. He is partnered with many business leaders on this and other efforts.
The St. Mary's property has dormitory style rooms, a commercial kitchen, recreation areas and sweeping views to the east of Mission Canyon.
Jaeger Partners Principal, Jason Jaeger said, "we can do a lot of good here, benefit a lot of people and really help our community."
On the tour, some of the facility had been remodeled to show what a conversion would look like. By comparison it included showing the old dorm style facilities with leftover furniture, tight rooms, and multi-stall restrooms and across the property areas that have new carpeting, upgraded restrooms, and a large dining area. It revealed a possible future look.
"The seller of the building has remodeled the rooms, there's a commercial kitchen, a cafeteria you can really see how nice it could be, " said Jaeger.
Some of the neighbors gathered nearby outside the gates with signs. They said they were not against homeless solutions but it was in the wrong location.
Their issues included traffic, impacts on roads and fire concerns.
Many had received notices on their mail boxes about the project, that also listed the contact information with all of the city council members. There were also instructions on how to make their comments on the project.
Matt Kay who lives in the neighborhood said, " we just want to know why the neighbors aren't being consulted about this . We are an important stake holder that is not part of the process."
The community has narrow roadways and Mimi Van Schaick Hildbrand said "and the bridges are already getting damaged by all the trucks coming up the road. I think it is a very poor idea."
The cost involved in turning this project into a wellness facility was not completely known, but compared to what we do now Berti said it would be a better use of funding. "I mean we don't put them (the homeless) in motels for free, we don't chase them around for free, we don't put them in the hospital and take them out of the hospital for free. We spend a lot of money and all we do is continue to have the problem."
He owns many downtown properties and has experienced the issues with homeless impacts for years.
It's a plan the supporters say addresses serious city and county issues.
Berti does not want to take on the project, but did take action to have the governments or another group consider the plan before it possible goes another route.
"If the city takes it over, the process will be streamlined. If I take it over I will be fighting with the neighbors, fighting with the government. It will be craziness," he said.
It's unclear what other uses could take place going forward.
Berti says the escrow underway now expires November 5th
The next move now is to see if there is enough city and county money combined with federal funding for these kinds of projects to make it a reality, and if there is enough support to use this site as one solution the area has been looking for.
Among those on the tour were Santa Barbara County Executive Officer Mona Miyasato, Santa Barbara City Interim City Administrator Rebecca Bjork, Fire Chief Chris Males, Sheriff's Commander Kevin Huddle, Father Larry Gosselin from the Santa Barbara Old Mission, Gordon Auchincloss, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Das Williams and Jeff Schaffer from the Santa Barbara Alliance for Community Transformation (SB ACT).