As a business owner, I decided to attend the Santa Barbara City Council meeting regarding the revitalization of Downtown Santa Barbara on July 25. This special session featured a semi-slick presentation by the Kosmont Companies. The price tag to the Santa Barbara taxpayers was $84,000, little more than the cost of other studies Santa Barbara has paid for in the past.
What bothered me more than the price tag was the cookie-cutter report containing generic unexplained data, nice colorful graphs, and photos of busy Saturday afternoon malls. Like an old “Seinfeld” rerun, this presentation was similar to all the reports presented to the city repeatedly over the past 20 years. One of Kosmont’s recommendations calls for temporarily or permanently closing several blocks of State Street and building a pedestrian mall. Well, the city has already done that. West de la Guerra Street was closed to create the Paseo Nuevo pedestrian mall – the same Paseo Nuevo mall that lost Macy’s along with other small businesses and is soon to lose Nordstrom. Now the city wants to “experiment” with closing State Street to traffic and most likely build another pedestrian mall.
Instead of focusing on why State Street buildings were empty, we heard a motivational speech by a former mayor. We heard complaints about carbon emissions, discussed the hiring of a redevelopment director, the waterfront, special events, street parties, public spaces, music volume, basketball courts – just about everything except the real problems, the large size and cost of commercial buildings and the vagrancy issue in Santa Barbara.
Maybe commerce is just different in today’s web economy. It is the opinion of myself and other business owners that shutting down streets and building another pedestrian mall is not the solution, and can make things even worse. For $84,000 we deserve a little more innovation.