Following action by the Santa Barbara City Council earlier this week to allow foodservice businesses to create temporary outdoor dining areas, portions of State Street were transformed into a pedestrian promenade Friday afternoon.
From Haley Street to Sola Street, the roadway was shut down to vehicular traffic as restaurants had the option to set up their outdoor dining areas. The plan was aimed at creating ample room for people to stoll in a safe, and social-distanced manner.
The council voted unanimously Tuesday to ratify preliminary recommendations from the city’s COVID-19 Business Advisory Task Force and city staff for the temporary dining areas, according to officials.
“Our City Council was inspired by the recommendation of the City’s business advisors. They know their clientele, and they understand that Santa Barbarans value creativity. We all want to reconnect with our local businesses and support their endeavor,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo in a news release.
The draft emergency measures to help businesses with outdoor dining with social distancing is expected to require restaurants to reduce their indoor seating capacity.
In addition, the city will hold its own California Alcoholic Beverage Control licensing workshop next week to help businesses who need help navigating the expansion of their current licensing onto outdoor dining space.
“Alcohol licensed establishments may not serve alcoholic beverages in the expanded space until they receive an emailed written authorization from the Alcoholic Beverage Control – after the vendor submits the required paperwork and pays the State an administrative fee. The regional ABC Offices are closed to the public until Tuesday,” said Anthony Wagner, spokesman for the Santa Barbara Police Department.
The workshop will be held from 10:30 a.m. to noon May 27. It will include a State ABC expert to help answer questions. A facilitated document drop will take place May 28. Local alcohol-licensed businesses can sign up ahead of time to participate in the workshop at the following link. https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/499828497463987723. The Webinar ID is 674-578-659.
During a webinar hosted by the UCSB Economic Forecast Project Thursday afternoon, City Administrator Paul Casey and Downtown Santa Barbara President Bob Stout talked about what reopening State Street would look like. The webinar was held before the decision to create the pedestrian promenade, though both Mr. Casey and Mr. Stout shared insight into what was being done to reopen the local economy and help businesses that have been struggling due to the COVID-19 pandemic and government and health mandates.
During the video conference, Mr. Stout said that for the first time in several weeks he was starting to see some enthusiasm based on the steps the city had taken.
“I’m seeing people actually starting to be a little bit excited,” he said adding that the current downtown vacancy rates will “definitely go up.”
“I think it’s also kind of parallel to the changing retail environment that’s been happening, certainly before COVID,” said Mr. Stout, who also owns The Wildcat Lounge and The Little Kitchen downtown.
With local tourism at a standstill due to stay-at-home orders and travel restrictions, Mr. Casey said it was up to the local residents to help support downtown businesses until restrictions are lifted.
“It’s really incumbent upon locals to support our businesses and get them through this kind of restart process as best we can,” he said.
Though the announcement of the promenade was made after the call, Mr. Casey said the city should be willing to try something sooner than later.
“Let’s try it. Let’s get it open and one of the reasons for getting it open is also to give people a sense of safety, a sense of space,” Mr. Casey said. “If the street is open to pedestrians, we’re not concentrated on sidewalks, we have more ability to kind of take over the whole right-of-way there. And that gives us the flexibility of working with restaurants who want to come out into the public space about where to do it.”
One of the ideas discussed during the webinar was to create parklets, or transform existing street parking spaces to outdoor dining settings. Mr. Stout envisioned local restaurants having dining on street curbs.
“It makes it very equitable to everybody on State Street,” he said.
Other restaurants that are privately owned can also be creative with their outdoor space, such as locations in the Funk Zone, Mr. Stout added.
“I think outdoor dining is going to be huge,” Mr. Stout said. “If restaurants follow through with what they need to do and put, not the center of their tables six-feet apart, but their customers six-feet apart, then we’ll all feel like coming down and having dinner. I think it will be a really good idea. It would look like the town is coming alive just driving by.
“If you saw a parklet out in front of Victoria Trattoria or Cardio with little strung lights, well, you wouldn’t think you’re in Little Italy, but as far as not being able to travel right now, it might be the next best thing.”
Mr. Casey explained that the concept has been favored by city officials and business owners, though the details are still being worked on. He acknowledged that the State Street concept may not be as successful in other corridors such as Milpas, Upper State Street or Stearns Wharf. Nonetheless, the city is welcoming local business owners to start a dialogue to create a solution that would best suit their needs.
“We have to be flexible with different approaches for different situations,” Mr. Casey said.
“Everyone should be cognizant that no one is leaving those areas alone, that I think the city is thinking about many, many different things around the different streets.”
Dr. Peter Rupert, executive director of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, praised local restaurants for pivoting quickly to meet the health standards and said his hope was that the businesses would figure out how to adapt.
“You give them the space, they’ll figure it out,” Dr. Rupert said. “I’ve been to many cities, some of which have tables more in the street and the people walk by the sidewalk and they’re in between the restaurant, then they get to see what’s going on.”
The pedestrian plaza will be open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The city has also established a dedicated email address or telephone number to respond to foodservice business inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-560-7520.