City reaches deal on transit center site: Santa Maria CA Times, 9/28/07

By Malia Spencer

After years of discussion - which even included the threat of eminent domain - the city of Santa Maria and owners of a downtown property appear to have reached a sale agreement for a site that is slated to be the home of the city's new transit center.

The City Council is scheduled to decide on the roughly $3.5-million purchase agreement at its regular meeting Tuesday. The council meets at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, 110 E. Cook St.

The property in question is 3.8 acres on the southeast corner of East Boone and South Miller streets, and is owned by La Brea Land Co. and G.A. Hancock Properties.

“It's been a long process,” said Michael Parry, president of La Brea Land Co., “We are looking forward to a successful conclusion to our negotiations. City staff have been good to deal with.

“Although our original desire was not to sell that property, now that we have gone down this road, we are looking forward to wrapping things up.”

Parry noted there are no development plans at this time for the remaining land in the area owned by the two corporations.

City officials see the site as a perfect location for a transit center because it is in the city's downtown and within walking distance of various municipal buildings and retail centers. It is also near the existing transit center, which is along East Cook St.

“We looked at a lot of different possibilities,” said David Whitehead, public works director and city engineer. “This location is very convenient for transit customers.”

The city has already hired an architect to design the facility, and that work is expected to last for about nine months, Whitehead said. Officials hope to begin construction by summer 2008, he added.

The budget for the entire project, including the land purchase, is more than $9 million, and is slated to come from the city's share of state Transportation Development Act funds, Whitehead said.

The center is meant to be a hub for Santa Maria Area Transit, which has outgrown its transfer stop in front of Santa Maria Town Center. The current facility is designed for six buses to stop and about nine vehicles are scheduled to stop there.

The center may also be able to better connect the city's buses with regional buses, but that hasn't been finalized, Whitehead said.

This site became the focus of the city's efforts in November 2004, when the council agreed with the findings of a citizen committee that was established to select a location for the proposed transit center.

City staff and the landowner then began negotiations on a lease agreement, since the owners were unwilling to sell.

However, in September 2005 the council looked at a 30-year lease agreement, deemed it too costly for the city, and directed staff to work toward purchasing the property. According to city staff, the proposed lease terms could have cost the city between $5.7 million to $5.9 million.

At that meeting, the majority of the council also mentioned the possibility of initiating eminent-domain proceedings.

That idea was taken further a year later when city staff began preparing a “resolution of necessity,” which is the first step in the eminent-domain process. However, further discussion between both sides averted the need to proceed with that possibility.

Eminent domain is the power of government agencies to take private land for a public use as long as the land owner is compensated.

With an improved transit center, SMAT should be able to continue its growth. Without it, “the city's system would really be limited in ability to service the needs of the community,” Whitehead said.

Last fiscal year, SMAT saw more than one million riders, which was a 10-percent increase over the previous year, said Michael Seden-Hansen, transit coordinator. He added that officials expect to see a bigger increase this year, as the service has expanded and more outreach has occurred.

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