DID YOU KNOW? Bonnie Donovan
Did You Know? was forwarded a letter from Kelly Brown, the owner of The Natural Cafe on lower State Street.
His letter so profoundly explains the problems and issues with the Santa Santa Barbara City Council’s and city administration’s failures in preserving the center of our city. This is from a man who for 30 years has done business there.
It is time to remove the parklets and return State Street to normality. It’s time to give the retail business some breathing space to survive and prosper. It’s time to make State Street attractive enough for us locals to promenade there and visit the shops once again.
Here is Mr. Brown’s letter to his landlord, in its entirety:
“I am writing to inform you that after 30 years, The Natural Cafe on State Street is closing its doors.
“Although we have been dealing with the same issues since the day we opened, things have taken an extreme turn for the worse the last few years.
“Homelessness, whether it is guest and staff interaction or aggressive panhandling, has always been challenging but it has now turned into straight-up criminality. Consuming alcohol and drugs in public, using planters for toilets, camping in empty storefronts or locking themselves in our bathrooms and showering, sleeping and using drugs is an everyday occurrence.
“The rat/vermin problem, which starts with the city and their lack of any program to address this, has, in the last few years, become intolerable. Look under any parklet, and you will find rat nests. Food is just falling on them from above. Did I mention the bicycles and skateboarders speeding down the closed street, running stop signs and putting themselves and all pedestrians at constant risk?
“All of these issues have become exacerbated by COVID and the ‘parklets.’ Not sure why you call them parklets. For the most part, it’s cheap looking, trashy 2 x 4 wood structures that greatly diminish what was once one of the great main streets in the country.
“To be clear, the parklets were a great idea when we lost our dining room, but most of us put up basic patio platforms as no one expected this to go on for multiple years, much less permanently. We took our parklet down last month as it no longer looked good. The city has an outdoor dining program that is more than adequate. We have our dining rooms back. We need State Street back.
“Government’s job is to level the playing field. This parklet program favors the few at the expense of the many.
“We need to remove the parklets, clean up State Street and police it. Why is it so hard for the City to do these simple things? Seems like Job #1 to me.
“Do with this letter what you like. After 30 years as your tenant, I felt I owed you a detailed explanation for leaving.
“Natural Cafe, Inc.”
Did You Know? went on an early morning field trip to what started out as the pedestrian promenade. What has it become? A shanty town of wooden shacks of mixed appearance and a very worn look. A thoroughfare that by city staff design mixes old, middle-aged and young children, and pedestrians with speeding electric bikes, pedal bikes and skateboarders in what they assure us is a safe environment. Would somebody explain the meaning of “pedestrian” to them?
Do you remember about one and half years ago there was a large fire on Bath Street and the railroad track? Two homeless men were doing drugs there adjacent to a storage unit. They started a fire that quickly got out of control and caused over $100,000 in losses and damages.
What would make you think that could not happen on State Street, with enormously, larger consequences?
We noticed that almost every parklet has propane heaters inside its structure. On our field trip, we also noticed that many of the propane heaters are left out at night. We have also seen some spare propane tanks stacked in wire storage containers on the sidewalk next to the main building structures.
We have to ask whether, at the end of the night, when the diners have gone, are any of these heaters left in the parklets with their propane tanks still in them? If they are, and as the nights become colder and the wind whistles down state street at night, wouldn’t a nice, cozy, heated parklet be an attractive place for homeless people to spend the night?
If so, can we imagine in the early hours of one morning that a heater might be set too close to a fabric awning, setting off a fire? if other heaters are out in the open, possibly with their gas tanks still in them, the fire could spread rapidly.
The thing is, we don’t know the answers to these questions. Basically, we use this example to ask whether the parklets, their electrical supply connections, and heating sources meet the electric codes and fire codes that would be applied to any other, similarly enclosed structures that would be permitted for any public use. Furthermore, are all these structures frequently inspected by the building and fire departments for violations of such codes?
Back to Mr. Brown’s letter to the Santa Barbara City Council and City Administrator Rebecca Bjork regarding the part on “The rat/vermin problem, which starts with the city and their lack of any program to address this has, in the last few years, become intolerable. Look under any parklet and you will find rat nests. Food is just falling on them from above.” During our rain this past week, most likely this all ended up in our ocean.
Also in the letter, “Homelessness, whether it is guest and staff interaction or aggressive panhandling has always been challenging but it has now turned into straight-up criminality. Consuming alcohol and drugs in public, using planters for toilets, camping in empty storefronts or locking themselves in our bathrooms and showering, sleeping and using drugs is an everyday occurrence.”
The Santa Barbara City Council just approved the staff recommendation to once again issue yet another check to City Net to take care of our homeless with only Mayor Randy Rowse asking when we will get our progress report. We believe this letter is your progress report.
In conclusion, what we have gained is just another empty storefront on State Street Promenade.
To be continued. We were just forwarded another letter as we are turning in our column.Editor’s note: News-Press staff writer Neil Hartstein has written about the problems on State Street and is continuing to do so with stories that will appear next week in the News-Press.