Lanny Ebenstein in the May 15 Voices section enthusiastically supported the acquisition of the Armory, although he didn't say specifically what its intended use would be or who would pay for it. At first glance, the proposed acquisition is comparable to motherhood and apple pie, but like so much of everything our public servants want to do for our benefit and at our expense, the devil is in the details, which Lanny skirted for the most part.
Lanny suggests the Armory would be a tremendous boost to programs and public facilities in our community. This, of course, raises the question of what programs or facilities to which he's referring. Unfortunately, there is no answer because no one knows. Over the years, many public officials, particularly those connected to the school district, have lobbied for the acquisition of the Armory, but have never demonstrated or justified its intended use or how it would be paid for.
Recently Dave Cash, the Santa Barbara Schools superintendent, until this summer when he is stepping down, proposed to convert the Armory to a career vocational school for K-14 students, including all Santa Barbara City College students. Sounds good, except it would be nice to know which vocational careers will be taught at this school, how much will it cost and who exactly will use the school. Incredibly, Mr. Cash decided this would cost $20 million, despite the fact there has never been a study, or for that matter any analysis at all, explaining what exactly will be taught or how much it will cost. As far as I can tell, he pulled this figure out of a hat. I have heard from sources that the district is assuming the site will cost anywhere from $6 million to $10 million, and the remainder of the $20 million cost would be set aside for renovation. How does he knows this? Did it come to him in a dream?
Without knowing the cost to the school district or having any specific plan for its intended use, the school board is about to include the $20 million cost in a huge $200 million school bond to go before the voters in November, which means you, the taxpayer, are going to pay for this. The reason why the district is rushing to fold the cost of the Armory and its redevelopment into this bond measure is because our Assembly member, Das Williams, is trying to pass legislation to get an extension giving the school district the right of first refusal to buy the Armory at fair market value before it will be sold to the highest bidder.
Some might think it's a little strange that we are forced to pay millions of dollars to the state for a facility that was donated to California by the city many years ago for a dollar. Notwithstanding the absence of an appraisal to determine the cost of the Armory, or the lack of any study or research to determine how the Armory will be used or what the renovation will entail, the school district is rushing to include it in a massive bond issue before the July deadline. If the Armory turns out to cost more than the $20 million estimate, which is already an unsubstantiated number, who will pay for it? This is a classic example of putting the cart before the horse.
Finally, maybe the most objectionable aspect of the Armory acquisition is the idea it should be shared with SBCC. Santa Barbara taxpayers will be forced to pay at least $20 million to provide programs of an unspecified nature to thousands of students who come here from outside of the district, the state and the country to attend SBCC. One reason why Measure S, the $288 million bond measure to expand SBCC, was defeated in 2014 was because of the community's reluctance to encourage the unbridled migration of non-resident students to Santa Barbara, deleteriously impacting our rental housing market, creating a severe shortage of parking in many neighborhoods and causing many residents in the Mesa and the lower Westside to complain about the noise and the occasionally unruly behavior of the students.
So, although Lanny Ebenstein and other well-intentioned advocates may be rejoicing that their dream of acquiring the Armory is nearing reality, the residents of Santa Barbara, who are being asked to pay for this, may have other ideas.
Lou Segal, The author lives in Santa Barbara.
Produced for Lou Segal 2020 - All Rights Reserved.