City Council approves State Street vision principles, directs advisory committee formation
The vision of the State Street promenade is slowly but surely coming to fruition.
On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council approved the recommendations of the State Street Subcommittee on the future of the promenade.
Members supported the committee’s stated vision principles, which included numerous characteristics stakeholders and community members hope to see in the future of the street, such as: more housing, economic revitalization, cultural and historical elements, attractions for locals and tourists, accessibility and becoming/remaining the “defining place of Santa Barbara’s identity.”
“There’s so much energy for our downtown. There’s such a love for it and a passion for it, and it’s thrilling to me to hear so many people who are so engaged in this conversation and who want to be a part of the master planning conversation as we move forward,” said Council member Meagan Harmon, who is also the chair of the State Street Subcommittee. “Our committee was unanimous and very strong in our belief and recommendation that we pursue master planning for our downtown core and the necessity of doing so.
“That became clear as we moved through the process just how many questions we really need to answer in order to put together what is potentially the project of a generation for our city.”
The council members agreed to direct staff to take into account the following as master planning begins: streetscape design and amenities, transportation and circulation, housing and redevelopment influences, economic development, historic resources, equity and accessibility, homeless strategies, public art and performing arts, operation and maintenance and a funding strategy.
The council directed staff to initiate amendments necessary to permanently close the street, and established its requirements for the makeup of the Master Plan Advisory Committee. The decision-making body will take a similar shape to that of the Community Formation Commission created earlier this year for the civilian police review system, but with a total of 15 voting members plus two alternates (compared to 13 voting members and two alternates for the CFC). Three members of the Master Plan Advisory Committee must be city council members; one member must be a planning commissioner; one member must be a historic landmarks commissioner; three spots are preferred for business and/or property owners; and the rest are open for the community at large to apply.
Jim Knell, one of the main property owners and landlords on State Street, represented one of the only voices lacking complete support of the subcommittee’s recommendations, leading to property owners’ inclusion.
“I’m not in favor of what you’re doing,” he said. “You need to include property owners … We have the largest investment of any one group in downtown Santa Barbara … We’re the ones that are going to put people in business.”
Other public commenters supported including property and business owners in the advisory committee, along with COAST board members and SB Bike members.
“We need to have the property owners invested in this process,” Council member Eric Friedman said. “They ultimately have the keys to the car on this one, because it’s their property.”
Council members also unanimously authorized the Parks and Recreation director to submit a statewide Park Development and Community Revitalization Program grant application for the Ortega Park Revitalization Project.
The project’s objectives include: expanding and modernizing existing recreation facilities; adding new park amenities; improving safety; maintaining cultural importance for the neighborhood; improving pedestrian access; and increasing parking.
The master plan includes a multi-sport turf field, a new year-round pool that provides for instruction, lap swimming, aqua programs and a children’s slide and splash play features, new park restroom facilities, new playground and family picnic area and a multi-generational activity zone with a skate park, basketball, bocce ball, corn hole and other amenities.
“This is such an underserved neighborhood in terms of what that parcel should be to that neighborhood and how it is not doing that right now,” Council member Mike Jordan said. “In the context of the murals and the untold stories that are yet to come, just think of the untold family stories that are yet to come with parents and their children when this park will be completed…
“We live in an ocean and beach town where frighteningly, so many of our people of color do not have water experience and don’t get to enjoy the water or beach while they’re sitting right on it and this will be an important component in closing that gap. I am hopeful that murals equals trust in this process.”
Many community members spoke up during the outreach process expressing their concern for preserving the murals and integrating them into the new park design, nearly resulting in missing the March 12 deadline to apply for a grant. However, council members praised Council member Alejandra Gutierrez for ensuring their input was included while still managing to meet the grant application deadline.
“That’s the beauty of having someone elected from the neighborhood who grew up there and knows the families and the history,” Mayor Cathy Murillo said. “The murals are very meaningful to the residents — they reflect our culture and our history, so it’s wonderful that we’ll be preserving the murals and that process.
“The youth and the families deserve a place to have picnics and exercise and (play) sports and for all the other good community events that will take place in an improved Ortega Park.”
The maximum grant per project is $8.5 million, so the Parks and Recreation Department is also seeking grant funding from the Outdoor Recreation Legacy Partnership Program and the Community Development Block Grant Program to meet the total project cost, which is estimated to be $11.8 million. The awards will be announced this summer, and the project is anticipated to be complete by March 2025.
City staff added that there will be conversations between stakeholders and community members moving forward regarding the murals and how to handle them.
In other business, the council adopted the abandoned shopping cart ordinance recommended by staff, requiring permanent identification on shopping carts in the city, loss prevention measures, employee training programs designed to prevent cart removal from business premises, mandatory retrieval within 24 if carts are removed and subsequent penalties to cart owners for failure to identify or retrieve abandoned carts.
Mr. Jordan expressed some concerns with the ordinance, although he voted in favor of it.
“I just think this really makes a business suffer for no fault of their own, historically,” he said. “Obviously the world has changed from 40 years ago when everybody honored and respected people’s property and didn’t just take them (carts) out and roll them home and leave them in the street, but at the same time, the costs worry me. I find it unsettling we’re talking about an ordinance without knowing what those (identification) fees would be.
“This takes the burden off the person doing the behavior and puts it squarely, financially on the markets who are really just trying to sell their product.”
Ms. Harmon agreed with his concerns, but said that loss prevention could at least prevent the carts from being taken in the first place.
“I wish this wasn’t necessary,” she said. “I don’t particularly like putting any extra onus on our businesses, but we’re talking about issues of safety, and when a truly abandoned shopping cart is in the public right of way, it needs to be dealt with, and this is just unfortunately the reality of the world that we’re living in.”