City officials and staff already are addressing a number of problems on State Street that have received attention lately as a result of some business owners going public with complaints about poor conditions in the 500 block – and the way the city is handling them.
The owners of The Natural Cafe and The Cruisery brewery voiced complaints about, among other things, rats feeding off of food dropped from outdoor dining parklets, electric bike riders speeding down the street and posing a safety risk to pedestrians, and homeless people on the street who use illegal drugs or drink alcohol in public, pee in outdoors planters, bathe in business bathrooms or aggressively panhandle.
Kelly Brown, owner of The Natural Cafe, told his landlord he would not be renewing his lease, and that he intends to close the popular eatery at 501 State St., a downtown fixture for 30 years, because of these continued problems.
In response to these complaints, Sarah Clark, the city’s downtown parking and plaza manager, ticked off one by one how the city is dealing with these issues.
She told the News-Press the city has maintained a rodent abatement program in Downtown for several years.
“Our pest control contractor places and maintains approximately 80 traps along State Street (from the 300 to the 1200 block), which are checked weekly,” she said. “While rodent nesting under the platforms remains a concern, we have not seen any major increase in the number of rodents trapped along State Street.
“The updated design requirements recently approved by City Council (for the parklets) will require businesses to modify their platforms to make it easier to keep the undersides clean, which we’re hoping will also help keep the rodent population down.”
In addition, she said, Downtown Parking staff and contractors work daily to keep the Promenade clean.
“Litter, graffiti, abandoned property and other janitorial needs are addressed every day,” she said. “Public restrooms are cleaned three times a day. The sidewalks on each block are pressure washed each week, and the street itself is pressure washed quarterly.”
The next deep street cleaning is scheduled before Thanksgiving, officials said.
According to Ms. Clark, outdoor planters are landscaped weekly, and cleaned out daily as needed.
“We have contractors on call all day to address human waste and biohazards as needed, and we respond quickly to these issues when reported.”
She said the city has heard a lot of concern from the community about pedestrian safety on the Promenade, and is taking steps to make it safer.
“We recently released a ‘Safe on State’ PSA reminding all downtown visitors to use the Promenade safely and respectfully,” she said.
“We’ve removed the green bicycle lanes at intersections because of concerns that the green color was encouraging cyclists to ride faster and run red lights. We’ll be adding new signage reminding all users to stop at red lights and be respectful of others.”
In addition, she said, “we’re working on developing new designs for the street that can create better separation between bikes and pedestrians, and will be testing some concepts in the coming months.
“We’ve also been working with the Police Department and City Attorney to develop enforceable regulations to discourage high speeds and other dangerous cycling behavior.”
She called the issue of homelessness “an extremely difficult and frustrating problem, not least for the people experiencing it.
“The city coordinates closely with a variety of service providers to try to connect our homeless residents with the services they need, including shelter and housing,” she said. “Downtown Parking staff, including the Downtown Ambassadors, often issue warnings and work directly with the homeless population to try to discourage illegal or inappropriate behavior in the Promenade.”
Ms. Clark said the city continues to work closely with the downtown business community to understand the challenges they face.
“Our goal is to create a safe, inviting Downtown district where our local businesses can thrive,” said.
She noted that the large majority of the restaurants and bars on State Street are “very supportive” of the on-street dining program, which was put in place to keep those businesses afloat during the COVID pandemic.
Mr. Ashland says they’re still useful in attracting people to Santa Barbara’s downtown, but Mr. Brown says they’ve outlived their purpose.
“Not sure why you call them parklets,” Mr. Brown said. “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.”
The updated design requirements mentioned by Ms. Clark – including parklet size, their construction, and the way they look – are supposed to be in place no later than Feb. 1.