COUNTY GOVERNMENT SPACE NEEDS:
PROBLEMS AND PROPOSED REMEDIES
With almost every department of County Government struggling with the current acute space shortage, citizens of Santa Barbara County and their County government need to make some informed decisions about dealing with this problem.
Unfortunately the need for strategic planning for facilities growth, no matter how crucial, is not a hot button issue with most voters. Neither is it a particularly welcome agenda item for elected officials of any county. Some supervisors in other California counties, who provided leadership in the building a Government Center or Centers, have felt the wrath of an electorate caught unawares by the cost of the initial financial investment.
The seriousness of the current space shortage, however, underscores the need for citizen attention to this issue, as well as vision and leadership on the part of the County's elected officials. It is the Grand Jury’s opinion that the County needs to make strategic plans about facilities growth, and needs to act on them.
Acting on long-range facilities strategies could eliminate the current office overcrowding, reduce the County’s current $2.72 million (and climbing) annual lease cost, and pave the way for better use of the County’s underdeveloped property.
The Grand Jury also suggests that Supervisors hold forums around the County to disseminate facilities information to, and gather recommendations from, County residents as to the direction the County should take in dealing with this issue.
Further, the Jury believes that a Special County Commission should be formed specifically to assist the Board of Supervisors in carrying out the mission of informing and getting feedback from County citizens, as well as producing a realistic strategic plan incorporating the master planning of all major County properties.
At least six times since 1985, full or partial master plans of County-owned property have been initiated. Little or nothing has come from any of these efforts. The Grand Jury hopes that this time a County Commission will help to keep the process on track.
Members of the Grand Jury interviewed the Director of the General Services Department several times, and held many meetings with department staff. The Jury also reviewed a plethora of reports, maps, architectural renderings, past capital outlay plans, old master plans, a 1985 facilities consolidation study (North County), a variety of space utilization studies (one dating back to the 1960s), and other information, including a current draft Facilities Master Plan Proposal from General Services.
Members of the Board of Supervisors were interviewed by questionnaire and/or in person. The County Administrator, several department directors and elected officials who have an interest, for a variety of reasons, in facilities management, were also interviewed.
The Grand Jury made site visits to all major properties the County owns in North and South County as well as looking at for-sale properties the County has under review. The General Services Department has the gratitude of the Grand Jury for producing the multitude of documents requested, as well as providing a guided tour of some County-owned properties.
The Jury also interviewed the acting Ventura County Administrator, a member of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors and other Ventura County officials. It reviewed documents and other sources of information, much of it supplied by the Ventura County Library, detailing the way that County built its County Campus. The Jury is appreciative of the time these people took to explain Ventura County’s building experience, and for the cautionary tales about difficulties experienced in creating the Ventura Government Center.
Also interviewed, by phone, were the administrative officer and/or other officials in other counties around the State in search of information as to their space problems and the way in which they are addressing them. The San Diego County General Service Department Director and his staff were particularly helpful, not only in telephone interviews, but in forwarding documents about their facilities-planning process, and the procedures and funding streams driving their current $300 million building program.
The objectives of this study are:
This investigation began in early September 2000 when the Grand Jury was alerted to escalating County space problems.
Several space needs reports had been undertaken at the behest of the County Administrator and issued by the County’s General Services Department whose mission it is, in part, to provide internal support services to all County Departments. Services include facilities management and property management. (General Services Mission Statement, 2000-2001 County of Santa Barbara Proposed Budget)
In January 2000, General Services issued to the Board of Supervisors a Space Utilization Report for South County. It identified the immediate need for an additional 109,038 square feet of office space, according to industry standards (Federal General Services Administration, et al). There was a projected five-year increase in the deficit to 136,377 square feet.
In March 2000, the County Administrator presented the Supervisors with the Proposed Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP). The CIP was meant to address both short-range and long-range capital acquisition and development.
According to the County Administrator, this CIP "provides the mechanism for estimating capital requirements; setting priorities; planning, scheduling and implementing projects; developing revenue policy for proposed improvements; monitoring and evaluating the progress of capital projects; and informing the public of projected capital improvements and unfunded needs."
A second space study, the North County Space Utilization Report, was released in July 2000. The study disclosed the immediate need for an additional 198,508 square feet of office space in North County, according to industry standards. There was a projected five-year increase in the deficit to 339,653 square feet.
The COPs Facility Program Strategic Plan was released in August 2000. It describes the $32.99 million in Board of Supervisor-approved Certificates of Participation meant to finance the building of 10 new County administrative, public safety, and health-related facilities. The Plan, produced by the General Services Department, describes COPs as "leasing financing agreements in the form of securities that can be issued and marketed to investors in a manner similar to tax-exempt debt. Issuing COPs," the report continues, "is a method of leveraging public assets and borrowing all or a portion of the value of the public agency’s equity in those assets in order to finance other desired assets."
The Grand Jury, as its inquiries began, was inundated with information as to the futility of the County attempting to manage space shortages on a piecemeal, short-term basis without long-range strategies.
Critical issues for the Jury became:
The Capital Improvement Plan is very specific about current County department needs and how they might be addressed in the short term (the next five years). The CIP does not provide future growth strategies for North and South County.
Since the County owns developable land west of the city of Santa Barbara, it makes little sense to continue maintaining a major presence in the city, compounding the office overcrowding as well as the parking and pollution problems.
As early as 1975, according the Capital Outlay Plan for that year, the then-sitting Board of Supervisors was talking about moving public works-related departments to new facilities on the County-owned Cathedral Oaks property. An impediment during those early years was a lack of water on the site, a problem that has long since been resolved.
Since the County owns developable land on Foster Road in Santa Maria, it makes sense to master plan and build office space there either to augment or replace the built-out Betteravia Center, the closest the County has ever come to building a government campus.
The need for developing long-range strategies is particularly critical now because of the projected 60% population growth in the County by 2030, according to statistics from the State of California Office of Financial Services. (Highlighted in the Santa Barbara County 2030 Land and Population report issued by the Planning and Development Department)
The County Administrator prefers to use a 1% a year growth figure that more accurately portrays the recent census figures of slightly less than 1% annual growth.
No matter which percentage is used (and there are many variables that will impact future population figures), there will still be a significant increase in population over the next 30 years.
Six months into its inquiry, the Grand Jury was asked to a meeting with the County Administrator who said he would endorse the master planning of underutilized County-owned properties. He estimated the planning would take at least three years. That intention is welcome news, but master planning has started many times before with no appreciable result.
The County needs to do long-range strategic planning addressing a variety of contingencies that will incorporate master planning. It needs to be decisive about the direction it is going to take and get that process underway.
THE CURRENT SITUATION
The Space Deficit
A major problem caused by the current space deficit is that in many departments two and three people now occupy an office meant to hold one person.
As an example, in Alcohol, Drugs & Mental Health Services, counselors often are forced, because of confidentiality issues and crowded offices, to interview clients on a bench in the parking lot or to take their clients on a hunt for a temporarily vacant office. Department of Planning and Development Staff have had to review plans with clients by spreading the plans out on the floor.
Areas that were once libraries or conference rooms have been converted to offices in many departments, thus canceling the use for which the space was originally created. Departmental storage is at such a premium that important files are often stacked in hallways or tucked away in dank basements or in leased space.
The County continues to lose employees who seek, among other things, a more appropriate working environment. The County then faces the chronic task of recruiting and training new staff.
The following table demonstrates the County’s failure to provide adequate facilities for its employees and for the citizens who use County services. Facilities servicing Buellton, Solvang, and Cuyama are particularly overcrowded.
5 Year Need
|Santa Maria Area||
|Buellton, Solvang and Cuyama||
1 As of January 2000
2 As of August 2000
The County currently leases 20% of its space with leasehold periods ranging from one to seven years. As of the end of January 2001, the County leased 161,538 square feet of space.
In North County, including Santa Maria, Guadalupe, Lompoc, Buellton and Solvang, the County leases 94,351 square feet of space at an annual cost of $1.174 million.
In South County, the County leases 67,187 square feet of space at an annual cost of $1.275 million, with the preponderance of this space in the downtown area of the City of Santa Barbara.
As the chart shows, the available rental space in the City of Santa Barbara has been in steep decline, with less than 100,000 square feet available in the year 2000. A continuation of this downward trend of available space suggests that rental rates will increase as County leases are renewed or that the County may be unable to renew leases.
It does not seem reasonable or fiscally sound to use leases, habitually, to meet County space needs instead of doing long-range planning, incorporating a variety of contingencies to meet future needs.
This does not mean that County government should not make use of a limited number of leased spaces in areas where a County presence is needed and where it may not make sense to buy or build.
Parking In the City of Santa Barbara
As the County maintains or increases its presence in the center of the City of Santa Barbara, it adds to the traffic congestion and the parking problem.
The County has attempted, over the years, to band-aid the parking problem. The latest solution has been to offer parking to County employees at the County Bowl with shuttle service back and forth to County buildings. As of March 2001, General Services said the pilot project, which runs until August, has not been successful.
The parking situation should be a surprise to no one. More than 20 years ago, in the 1980 Capital Planning Survey, many directors of County departments located in downtown Santa Barbara reported that the lack of employee parking was a problem.
Currently, an average employee’s wait for an assigned County parking place in the Administration lot, according to General Services, is approximately 12 years, while the average length of employment of County personnel is 11 years. In downtown Santa Barbara, the County provides only 343 spaces for its 1,085 employees.
This usually means that those County workers without assigned parking are forced to try to find the minimally available free street parking, or pay $8 to $10 to park for a day in the City parking lots and structures. The alternative is what has come to be known as the "75-minute shuffle."
The shuffle means that periodically during the day, scores of County employees leave their posts to move their cars in order to avoid having their cars ticketed for being parked over the free 75-minute time limit. This costs the County hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in lost work time, according to several estimates.
Department directors are loath to confront employees about lost time when the County has caused the problem, in large part. The County has chosen to exempt itself from the regulations that the Planning and Development Department applies to others—namely that one parking space must be provided for every new 300 square feet of office space, as detailed most recently in the 1997 Inland Zoning Ordinance.
The lack of assigned parking is not just a problem for the County and its employees who park on the streets or the City’s lots and parking structures. It exacerbates the aggravation almost everyone experiences when trying to find a parking space in downtown Santa Barbara.
To add to the facilities challenge, some of the County’s buildings are in deplorable condition and the staff of entire divisions of departments are working in crowded and appalling circumstances.
The County Elections Division had been housed for 26 years in the rat-infested, musty basement of the County Courthouse before the Board of Supervisors agreed, finally, to move the division to leased office space on Anacapa Street across from the Courthouse in February 2001.
The Supervisors approved the one-time cost of $75,937 for moving the Elections Division across the street, as well as the more than $125,000 annually it will cost for each of the five years of the lease.
Much of the South County’s Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services (ADMHS) staff is housed on the County-owned Calle Real property, west of the City of Santa Barbara, in what have been described as deteriorating and unhealthy buildings. Some of the buildings were described by one County elected official as "absolutely uninhabitable."
Many of these ADMHS facilities are listed as priorities for repair or renovation in the current Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan. It is not clear, however, whether or when the projects might actually be funded.
The plight of this particular department points up a serious problem with the Capital Improvement Plan. Any project can be put into the Plan—which has been called County government’s "wish list." Wishing, however, does not always make it so. If there is no readily identifiable income stream for a project, its chances of coming to fruition are poor.
In March 2001, the Administrative Office revealed that of the proposed $600 million in new building proposals (which includes not only facilities, but roads, parks and other real property), only $257 million was actually funded.
Another facilities concern currently is that Santa Barbara County, unlike the State and many other counties in California, has no actual "landlord," someone with the power and authority to designate what departments should occupy what space.
Although the General Services Director reports taking positive steps to correct this situation, in the past when a County department outgrew its space, the department director would either try to find other County space or find rental space for a part of its department. The director would then ask the County Administrator to approve the move and/or lease expenditure. Many times, General Services was not even aware that certain departments of a division were in leased space.
The result of this unofficial "tradition" is that departments are fragmented. County leases are accelerating without addressing the overall office space problem, and services may be compromised.
The fragmenting of departments often means aggravation for citizens trying to access a department of County government. It also means a probable increase in operating costs because of a duplication of some staff and office equipment.
How Did This Happen?
The information this Grand Jury received during the course of this investigation was disconcerting. Once the scope of the problem was realized, the Jury could only wonder how the County had gotten itself into such a dismal situation.
The County has neglected doing long-range facilities planning with appropriate follow-up. There have been some mitigating factors, however.
During interviews with the County Administrators or other officials of other California counties, the Jury found that Santa Barbara County is not alone in experiencing its current space deficit. In part, this is because of the downturn in the economy during the late 1980s and early 1990s when demand for services slowed, staff was laid off, and the problems of expansion of facilities became moot.
When the economy strengthened, in the mid 90s, the demand for services escalated sharply and Santa Barbara, like other counties around the State, scrambled to hire more staff and to find office space in which to house them.
Given the well-documented undulations of the national economy, strategic planning, for which any private sector CEO and board of directors would be held accountable, might have lessened the impact considerably.
It was clear to the Grand Jury, after completing its interviewing, and its document and site review process, that the County has a number of options from which to choose in the way it faces up to the facilities challenge.
No matter which option the County chooses, however, the Jury is adamant that the County should proceed with tentative plans to rectify the deplorable situation at the Calle Real property where the majority of South County Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services staff are based.
The dedicated ADMHS staff deal daily with a stressed and stressful clientele. Adding to the high level of difficulty for staff in providing conscientious care to clients, ADMHS leadership and policy have been in a state of flux in the past few years.
To impact further the work of these valuable County employees by placing them in buildings that have been described as "sick," "depressing," "dilapidated," and "uninhabitable" is unconscionable. This problem must be addressed.
Space Needs Quick Fixes
One of the quick fixes the Jury considered briefly was the idea of a hiring freeze or staff cut back. This would necessitate informing citizens that the expected level of service by County government would have to be lowered. Both practically and politically, this idea did not rise to the level of serious consideration.
Another quick-fix option considered was to turn as many of the County’s workforce as possible into home-based employees. This proved impractical for a number of reasons.
The national experience, as reported in the December 28, 2000 issue of the Los Angeles Times, is that instead of growing in favor and practice, telecommuting is actually losing favor around the Country. The article, citing an American Management Association survey, said some of the reasons for the downturn include (1) legal and risk management concerns, (2) supervisory concerns, (3) doubts about cost benefits, and (4) the hefty technology investment.
In addition to the reasons cited by the Management Association study, a primary reason for the lack of interest in telecommuting by County management and employees is that County government—unlike research and development companies, for example—is basically a service organization. Several department directors and elected officials said that some of their employees work at home frequently on specific projects, but that few could actually do their jobs from home.
Another quick fix considered by the Grand Jury is the concept of "hot desking." Hot desking has been discussed in the private sector for 20 years and has been studied by a number of companies including AT&T, Microsoft, and Sun Microsystems, according to a memo to the Jury from General Services.
In essence it means two different shifts share a particular office space each day. (As an example, the first shift would work from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and second shift from 3 to 11 p.m.) This could also be impractical in a service-based organization, as well as difficult to staff.
The Three Options
The Grand Jury identified three choices for the way in which the County’s citizens and their government could address facilities issues.
OPTION ONE—THE STATUS QUO
The first option is basically to keep doing what the County is currently doing—providing facilities growth for County departments by shoe-horning more building or leasing of office space in the County’s population centers.
|This option has the County continuing to build, buy and/or lease in already congested areas, while underdeveloped County property nearby continues to be unused. If the County keeps going down this path, the problems will only be compounded.|
OPTION TWO—BUILD TWO COUNTY CAMPUSES
For many Counties in California, a County Campus (or Government Center) is a reasoned response to anticipated facilities challenges. It consolidates multiple departments in a single area (or two) and provides adequate office space for staff, as well as easy citizen access to County government. A complaint for many California counties with campuses seems to be that anticipated growth was underestimated.
Building a North County Campus on the approximately 90 acres of County-owned Foster Road property in Santa Maria, as well as a South County Campus on the 40-acre County-owned Cathedral Oaks property seems a reasonable answer to the Grand Jury. Amenities available to employees working at the proposed Cathedral Oaks site, which could include child care, restaurants and banking services, would also be available to employees at the nearby Calle Real property where Sheriff and ADMHS facilities are already located.
County space planners and architects pointed out that the cost for these proposed facilities would be greatly reduced because the County already owns the land. It was also pointed out that one or both campuses could be mixed-use facilities with concessionaires providing dining facilities and other amenities that would make the campus an amenable place to work and conduct business.
The Grand Jury was also told that because of the tight rental market in the City of Santa Barbara, the County could reasonably sell the Administration and Engineering buildings with a negotiated leaseback arrangement until a new South County Campus was completed. The funds from the sale of the buildings would finance a substantial part of the new Campus.
Since Betteravia Center is already built out, the County might be able to effect the sale of that center with a leaseback clause until a North County Campus is readied. Funds from the sale would, again, help drive down the cost of a North County facility.
The Ventura County Experience
To find out how Santa Barbara County might go about creating its Campus or Campuses, the Jury interviewed Ventura County officials at their County Center which is located on an 80-acre parcel in the City of Ventura.
Ventura County officials warned the Santa Barbara County Grand Jury to make certain citizens actively participated in any planning process for a new County Campus or campuses. As visionary as the Ventura County Supervisors were, thirty years ago, in supporting the creation of the Ventura County Government Center, they did not adequately address that important task.
When a bond measure, meant to finance the building program, failed in 1968, the Ventura County Board of Supervisors went ahead with plans to build the Center in the early 70s. The financial instrument they chose was the issuance of Certificates of Participation, which does not require voter approval. The COPs obligation is now almost retired.
In spite of the millions of dollars the Government Center may have saved Ventura County during the past 30 years, and the multi-millions it may save in the future, citizens were angry with the Supervisors for leaving them out of the final financial loop. According to many Ventura County officials, it took a long time for that breach to heal.
Physically, the Ventura Government Center is an imposing group of buildings surrounded by what appears to be an abundance of parking. The main structure, the administration building, has an atrium that contributes a feeling of space and light to what could otherwise be a rather cold, institutional setting. Most offices and departments within the administration building seem to be accommodated adequately. The Santa Barbara County Grand Jury was told, however, that Ventura County is also experiencing a current space deficit that will have to be addressed in the future, perhaps by building on what are now parking lots and tiering others.
Information about Ventura County’s current space problems brought a cautionary note to the idea that the incorporation of urban areas within Santa Barbara County would mean an abrupt drop in the need for County services.
Only 10% of Ventura County’s population live in unincorporated areas of the County as compared with the current figure of 42% in Santa Barbara County, according to the Santa Barbara County Auditor-Controller. The need for county services in Ventura has not diminished appreciably, however, as many of that county’s incorporated cities contract with the county for a variety of services.
Immediate Implementation of a
County Centers Building Program
In Santa Barbara County, the law and justice departments (District Attorney, Public Defender, Courts) and public safety departments (Fire, Probation, Sheriff) have special funding opportunities or circumstances.
With those exclusions, however, the following is a look at the pros and cons of building North and South County Campuses now in which to contain most of the County’s remaining departments.
Proposition 13 requires a two-thirds majority for voter approval of General Obligation Bonds. As an alternative to this super majority requirement, the Supervisors can authorize the issuance of Certificates of Participation which, as previously mentioned, do not require voter approval. No matter which financial instrument the County uses, the amount of debt the County can reasonably undertake is limited by the County’s current forecasted ability to repay annual debt obligations.
Another factor is the perception by the financial community and debt rating services of the County’s ability to repay its debt obligations.
When the County’s debt load is perceived by the financial community to be too high, the credit rating of the County is downgraded, resulting in the interest rate on indebtedness rising to an unacceptable rate, or the inability to sell debt instruments at any interest rate.
In June 1999, the County contracted with the Public Resources Advisory Group for a Debt Affordability Report. The report concluded that: "Assuming annual COPs issues from fiscal years 1999-2000 through 2007-2008 producing a net lease burden not exceeding 6.2%, our calculations indicate that the County’s General Fund can support $80.645 million in new COPs issues."
The report cautions, however, "the current level of General Fund revenues cannot alone support repayment of the $80,645 million in new COPs issues. Over time, General Fund revenues must experience increases or expenditures must decrease to support repayment of these new obligations. Revenue increases could come from new revenues generated by the projects financed with these borrowings. Expenditure reductions may result from cost savings achieved through modernization of aging facilities and the relocation of staff from facilities leased to the County at commercial rates to County owned facilities financed at municipal rates."
|The Grand Jury believes that the idea of building two County Centers or Campuses on land already owned by the County in the immediate future is strategically desirable and may well be financially feasible.|
OPTION THREE—BUILD TWO COUNTY CAMPUSES, INCREMENTALLY
Option Three is basically Option Two, but with the building program stretched over a period of 10 to 30 years. This would help the County to pay as it goes rather than having to encumber $75 million or more in COPs liability or bond debt.
The Calle Real property would still be the primary target for renewal because the situation there is so dismal. Concurrently, however, major County land holdings would be either master planned or offered for sale with the proceeds from the sale helping to defray the estimated $500,000 cost of master planning (according to a General Services estimate).
The first building, to be erected on the Cathedral Oaks property, could house two symbiotic departments such as Public Works and Planning and Development. This would eliminate the need for the dubious Engineering Building In-Fill in the City of Santa Barbara listed in the current COPs Facility Master Plan.
The In-Fill would, according to the plan, "fill in two underutilized courtyards," one between the Engineering Building and the Administration Building and the second in the center of the Engineering Building. With a cost estimate of $3.06 million, it would theoretically create approximately 8,000 square feet of office and other space.
What the In-Fill will not do is adequately address the anticipated need of an additional 11,403 square feet the two departments are anticipated to need within the next five years. Neither would it be part of the solution to the deficit of County parking spaces or the issue of traffic congestion in the City of Santa Barbara.
This option, which seems less risky and financially daunting than Option Two at first glance, may be as problematic as Option One in the long run.
Members of the Board of Supervisors, when asked (by questionnaire or in person) if they would support the concept of one or two County Centers or Campuses, responded affirmatively. Many responses, however, were accompanied by equivocation, usually about financing.
One supervisor followed almost every assent to a questionnaire query with, "if it is economically feasible." This is an understandable response and one echoed by others.
Another supervisor, however, not only supported two Campuses but lobbied for another in Lompoc with telecom networks to service providers located in neighborhoods throughout the County. This visionary concept would certainly help alleviate the overcrowding of facilities serving Buellton, Solvang, and Cuyama, which any master plan must address.
The Grand Jury is not attempting the micromanagment of a building program, but is trying to get facilities planning moving ahead in an appropriate manner.
The Board of Supervisors must mandate strategic planning for orderly facilities growth in the County in the same way it has approved the update of the Comprehensive Plan that will bring order to future land-use issues in the County.
Master planning is a component of strategic planning that should be undertaken only after the County decides where, when, why, and how future facilities growth should occur in a manner that will most cost-effectively and efficiently serve County citizens.
Finding 1: The County is critically short of office space for its employees throughout the County, jeopardizing its ability to serve County residents cost effectively.
Finding 2: The space deficit is expected to grow substantially in the next five years commensurate with population growth.
Finding 3: The County has not addressed the office space deficit in a meaningful way and continues following the policies that have led us to the current space deficit.
Finding 4: The County is, as of April 2001, paying $2.72 million annually in leases.
Finding 5: The County has developed numerous master plans for County government space needs in the past 15 years, but has let them languish.
Finding 6: The County’s Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan, cited by some County officials as long-range strategic planning, is neither long range nor is it actually strategic planning. It is a conceptual plan for how the County might deal with current space deficits over the next five years.
Finding 7: Attempts are being made to encourage the Supervisors to sanction long-range facilities planning, but none of the current plans are looking at an obvious answer to the County’s space needs—government centers on County-owned land.
Finding 8: The County owns prime developable land on which to build both a North and South County Government Center.
Finding 9: The County owns real estate in downtown Santa Barbara as well as Betteravia Center in North County that could be sold to offset the acquisition of new facilities on County-owned property.
Finding 10: The County may well be able to finance new Government Centers within existing debt limitations.
Recommendation 1: The Board of Supervisors should immediately mandate long-range strategic planning before approving master planning County property.
Recommendation 2: The Board of Supervisors should consider an obvious solution to current and future space needs: build a Government Center or Campus in both North and South County.
Recommendation 3: The Board of Supervisors should appoint a Special Citizens Commission to advise the Board on when, where, and if to build County Government Centers and to effect citizen participation in the process.
The Board of Supervisors
Findings 1 through 10
Recommendations 1, 2, 3