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Op-Ed: Hal Conklin Checks in on Paseo Nuevo, Leadership -- and SB's Economic Future

Updated: Sep 25, 2020

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(Editor's note: Currently a guest at Cottage Hospital, former Mayor and lifetime community hero Hal Conklin was bestirred by SB's Planning Commission's recent, surprise rejection of a much discussed development agreement between the city and the Paseo Nuevo mall. Conklin knows as much as anyone about the planning and history of Paseo Nuevo, having been deeply involved in its creation in the 1980's. Down but not out, he fired off a missive on the matter, and related issues, to members of his influential Santa Barbara Leadership Team, a version of which he kindly assented to Newsmakers publishing today, followed by a note on how he's doing, appended below. Background on the controversy is here and here).

What Is Our Leadership Plan for the Revival of the Santa Barbara Economy?

By Hal Conklin

Here are a few observations in response to the Updated Plan for Paseo Nuevo, along with some broader thoughts on the kind of practical leadership actions needed to revive our South Coast economy:

Historic context. The original plan for Paseo Nuevo (and as a result, its continued success) is based on the fact that this is the City’s Plan and Project -- not that of a private developer.

From 1984-89, thousands of people participated in a community process that resulted in the “Central Economic Development Base Partnership Plan," crafted to protect Santa Barbara's tax base.

The ability of the City to safeguard all of its tax base, for the sake of Police, Fire, and basic services, must be protected and supported, whether it is our auto dealers or Paseo Nuevo.

These are partners with the city in achieving a much larger goal; at this point in history, it is almost comical for the City Council or Planning Commission should suggest that “the City isn’t getting enough out of a private developer who wants to do something downtown.”

Collaboration, not conflict. It may be true that Paseo Nuevo is going through a significant change. However, talented leadership at City Hall must embrace every element of planning, support, and execution as a joint partnership – NOT as an adversarial relationship.

This should be our version of “Dancing With the Stars”, not "Family Feud."

A broader economic vision. Setting aside my current personal situation, the health care industry must be a huge component of future economic growth on the south coast, given the talent, capacity, and resources of Cottage Hospital, Sansum Clinic, and all of the affiliated medical assets talent that exist here. Here are seven critical steps the City can take as part of a leadership strategy to encourage and undergird this reality:

  • Incorporate and reflect that the health care industry is a priority in the economic development language for planning and policy purposes.

  • Partner with the Santa Barbara Unified School District to create a certification development program that cultivates, supports, and honors young people who want to grow and train into this occupational field.

  • Help underwrite and support to the extent possible the Nursing Program at Santa Barbara City College to build our local talent base.

  • Strengthen our commitment to Research and Development at UCSB - including incentives for siting emerging talent pools and information hubs within the City of Santa Barbara.

  • Undertake an effort to locate an Extension Campus of California State University Channel Islands in downtown Santa Barbara - perhaps in partnership with Paseo Nuevo and the Nordstrom Building.

  • Focus the City's enormous "inclusional zoning" capability to build priority housing in Santa Barbara for health care workers, especially nurses.

  • Honor private philanthropy and business interests who wish to partner to achieve this goal.

By including all community stakeholders in partnerships based on cooperation -- not conflict -- Santa Barbara can grow our economy and perhaps become the “Mayo Clinic of the West.”

A personal note from Hal:

When I woke up in the Emergency wing of Cottage Hospital four weeks ago, the last thing I expected that day was that I was going to be wheeled into surgery to remove a brain tumor --- or that this week I would be back in surgery for a radiation attack on a second cluster of tumors in my brain.

All of this has taught me a lot -- not least immense gratitude for the remarkable medical talent at Cottage Hospital, Sansum Clinic, the Ridley-Tree Cancer Center, and the Cottage Rehab Hospital, where I remain.

Special thanks for Dr. Fred Kass, the lead doctor on this team (and member of the FMCSB); Dr. Brain Tumurer, who did the original surgery on Sept. 2; and Dr. Warren Suh, who will direct the radiation treatment on the remaining cluster this week. In addition, I am grateful to the two dozen nurses and therapists who have worked with me every day.

I would ask two things of you: 1) Continue to pray for these medical angels to focus their talent on my healing and 2) Please continue to give my wife Haley and my family your support during this trying time.

A group of friends put together a "CareBridge" website page that will be updated regularly with the latest information about how I am doing. Click on this site to register.

Bless you........ Hal

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