Randy Rowse calls on Santa Barbara City Council to take action soon
The new “visionary” State Street Master Plan — and its promise of revitalizing Santa Barbara’s downtown economy over the next 30 to 50 years — ran smack dab into reality at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, when Mayor Randy Rowse raised a question and insisted on an answer.
He asked what the city would do about the pedestrian promenade and dining parklets now lining lower State Street. Not in the future but right now.
Mayor Rowse said something has to be done — and soon — to deal with the issues of parklet portability, parklet rent and regulations, as well as the need for stormwater drainage, security, lighting and deep cleaning around and beneath the popular outdoor eating spots.
He praised the State Street Advisory Committee for its work on the master plan, saying “the work done by the committee and staff is fabulous.” But he also noted that even after the 16- to 18-month planning process is completed, the city still has to figure out how to find the funding needed to begin making any actual improvements
“We’ve fallen down on the interim plan,” Mayor Rowse said. “I’m not sure if anyone is satisfied with the state of State Street. It’s not clean. It’s not up on rules and regulations. These are public areas where people sit and take their mothers and take their children. It’s not going to work the way things are right now.”
He noted that some people believe city officials are using the current condition of State Street as an excuse to go back to the days before the parklets were permitted due to COVID-19, a time when traffic was on the street.
But he insisted the city isn’t trying to turn back the clock.
“We can have portability and the promenade,” Mayor Rowse said. “We can have both, but we have a duty to provide public health and safety for our citizens … and we’re sworn to protect both.”
At this point in the meeting, the council was supposed to vote whether to approve a resolution accepting the Master Plan put together by the State Street Advisory Committee and whether to approve a $700,000-plus contract to hire a consultant to guide the city through the planning process.
The council would give its approval, but not quite yet.
Mayor Rowse wasn’t ready.
He made a motion to amend the resolution to direct staff to move forward with a compliance plan when it comes to cleaning, stormwater drainage, aesthetics, rent and regulations.
By doing so, he pointedly bypassed the council’s own Ad Hoc subcommittee tasked with coming up with its own recommendations. During an earlier council meeting, he blasted subcommittee members for failing to come up with any “actionable” ideas.
“We met today. We talked about stuff. And we still kicked the can down the road,” he said at the time.
And in a subsequent interview with the News-Press, he went further with his criticism.
“There were a certain amount of things we wanted,” Mayor Rowse told the News-Press, “and they brought back nothing. The motion for action did not take any action. There was nothing to vote on there. They got the bones but not the meat.”
His tough talk apparently did its job.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, a subcommittee member, formally and publicly apologized Tuesday for the panel’s lack of action to date. But now, she said, “we’re ready with our recommendations,” and she promised they would be presented to the full council in September.
Staff, meanwhile, reminded the mayor that the council had already instructed them to work on these issues, and with Advisory Committee input in hand, they would be ready shortly to present their recommendations to the council, at least when it comes to aesthetics for new construction and size of new outdoor dining areas and the possibility that they pay rent for the privilege of expanding onto the sidewalk and into the street.
Staff said they were not prepared to make recommendations concerning parklet portability — a key issue for the mayor because the parklets now cover storm drains needed to prevent flooding in the event Santa Barbara experiences heavy rain, and because their seemingly permanent presence prevents the possible return of parades gracing lower State Street.
Nevertheless, an appeased mayor subsequently withdrew his motion to amend the resolution, and council members approved the new State Street Master Plan and the hiring of consultant MIG Inc., voicing their enthusiasm for moving ahead with both.
They especially were pleased with staff’s promise that they, other regulatory bodies, business owners, other “stakeholders,” and especially the public would be asked frequently for their input along the way.