Santa Maria’s future up in the air

By coffman | Mar 10, 2017 | News, news-home | No Comments

From The Lompoc Record

DSCN1503Like most towns in America, Santa Maria has been struggling with what it wants to be when it grows up.

That’s a good struggle to be in, because a lot of communities have nowhere to go. They are stagnant and will remain that way because of specific circumstances.

Santa Maria doesn’t have that problem. For one thing, the city is the fastest-growing in Santa Barbara County, and already has the county’s largest population living within city limits.

Being the biggest doesn’t always equate to being the best. With growth come problems, and Santa Maria is struggling with some of those. There is the issue — and public image — of gang crime. There is the movement to redefine the downtown business core. Those are typical growth-related matters, and public/private consortiums are working on solutions.

In a very real way, those are good problems to have, because not having to deal with such issues is a sign of decay. Many folks might want to have things remain as they were, but that’s not in the cards for us. Santa Maria and surrounding areas are simply too alluring to newcomers.

The struggle to find a new identity extends out to the Santa Maria Airport, whose decision-makers are in the midst of formulating a new master plan that will carry the airport and supporting business at least 20 years into the future. The master plan in effect now was drawn up in 2004, but has changed so dramatically that a new blueprint is needed.

Many improvements have been made at the airport property in the nearly decade and a half of the current plan, especially to the terminal building and runway system. But much more is needed, if the airport is to play a central role in Santa Maria’s efforts to attract businesses and industries with higher-paying jobs — a cornerstone of this community’s need to better itself.

 The airport currently is a bustling hub for general aviation, which literally translated means private aircraft. That segment of the airport’s operations continues to grow.

But when it comes to commercial activities, not so much is happening. If there is a weakness at the facility, it is the fact that few commercial carriers fly in and out of Santa Maria, which is in direct competition with other regional airports in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo, with an even larger magnetic attraction for air travelers at Los Angeles International.

Still, with hotels, restaurants and business serving the general aviation crowd, the airport is definitely a happening place, and managers want to make it even more so. One part of that is ongoing negotiations with major airlines to bring service to Santa Maria. More carriers means more travelers, which means more business. It’s a simple equation to visualize, but fairly difficult to pull off with so much competition so close at hand.

Airport officials want to get local citizens’ take on what the next 20 years should be like. A second public workshop will be held in a couple of months, and if you want to be fully prepared for that meeting, you can view the new master plan proposal at: santamaria.airportstudy.com. Written comments are welcome at: Santa Maria Public Airport District Office, 3217 Terminal Dr., Santa Maria.

The future of just about everything is a mystery, and this community’s future is a puzzle with a few pieces yet to be placed. The airport is definitely one of those pieces.

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