The proposal for an Eastside Business Improvement District has been a long evolution. Beginning in the 1950′s, merchants have organized voluntary associations on the Eastside to advance the cause of their business, provide fun events for the community, and more. Here’s just a few of the organizations that have sprung up over the years here:
- Milpas Merchants Association / Milpas Association–Edwin Bachmeier, Scott’s Barber Shop on Milpas. Off-and-on since at least 1950, last died 2009
- Greater Eastside Merchants Association–Started 1993, suspended 2004 by the California Secretary Of State and Franchise Tax Board
- Eastside Study Group –proposed narrowing Milpas, widening sidewalks, Eastside labelled as “Zoning Salad” – Gil Garcia, 1994 LA Times
- East Beach Coalition – 1998-2000
- Eastside Optimist Club – 2009-2010?
- Milpas Community Association (MCA) – Oct 2010 – present
The MCA was formed in 2010 to deal with serious concerns about safety in the area and the lack of any voice at City Hall. This time, the merchants decided that it made no sense to create yet another voluntary chamber-type of merchants group. That model had failed repeatedly historically. They wanted to do two things differently this time:
1. Open this association up to the wider community – get schools, non-profits and residents involved so that gains made in the business corridor would spread out in the community.
2. Hire an executive director to keep the momentum going. Prior associations died out because of burnout and volunteer fatigue.
A core group of merchants put the funding together, and paid for the executive director. They hired Sharon Byrne part-time to work for the MCA, organize events, pull the elected officials into the community to increase their responsiveness to it, and ensure city resources are directed into the area.
The MCA went on to revive the Milpas Holiday Parade, put on a Trick or Treat on Milpas St, get the Christmas lights up on Milpas, put up the city’s first solar-powered Christmas tree in the roundabout, host neighborhood clean-ups, and launch the Taste of Milpas(TM). We also lobbied for beat cops on the Eastside for community-based policing. We served on the Milpas Action Task Force to work out neighborhood issues with Casa Esperanza and the City of Santa Barbara. We’ve participated in the Common Ground Point in Time count in 2011, 2013 and now 2015. We’ve also created the Milpas Outreach Project to house 10 of the most chronically homeless individuals in the community.
While the MCA achieved greater traction and spread than prior voluntary associations, and won two Neighborhood of the Year awards from Neighborhoods USA, we also began to face hurdles of scalability and the limits of voluntary contributions. Many businesses donated to the parade and lights efforts, but as in the past, the main effort relied on the core contributions of a few. This is not a sustainable model.
We first heard of the business improvement district model in 2012, when we faced the difficulty of getting Christmas lights up on Milpas. We had not known that the Downtown Business Association pays for the holiday lights on State St. We also did not know that they pay for their sidewalk cleaning, special events, and other services provided to downtown merchants. We thought the city funded all that.
Over time, we’ve been introduced to this model, researched it, contacted business improvement districts in other cities, and tried to understand more about how it worked. The city of Santa Barbara suggested we hire a consultant to put one together for the Eastside, as a way to sustain the gains the MCA has made to date. This is how the Eastside Business Improvement District proposal came to be.
We invite you to browse these pages to learn about the proposal, and see the level of effort that’s gone into this. We believe this area is special, and is the last home of the small, family-owned business in Santa Barbara. It’s very worth preserving, and we want to ensure our small businesses can thrive here. We have strong construction, automotive, restaurant, and retail sectors in this area, and with a safer, clean thriving district, we can attract more patrons to our businesses, create more jobs, and prosper in this area.
We know from our history that voluntary associations don’t last. Either we move forward with a business improvement district, or we allow ourselves to be at the mercy of market forces and possibly see the area slide back into decline for lack of attention.
Please peruse our pages for a wealth of materials on the proposed business improvement district for the Eastside. Read what others say in support of the proposal. Learn about the significant outreach efforts we’ve undertaken to explain the concept to our community.
We invite you to contact us if you have any questions. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 805 636 0475, and we’ll be happy to have coffee with you at one of our local restaurants.