Vince Wood says his tenant has experienced same problems as The Natural Cafe
A downtown landlord has joined a small but growing number of Santa Barbara business owners decrying conditions on lower State Street, including homeless people who panhandle, drink alcohol and use illegal drugs.
Vince Wood, co-owner of the building housing Hayward’s 1890, an outdoor furniture store, said his tenant has contended with most of the same problems facing The Natural Cafe a few blocks up the road.
“The city has really done nothing to improve this area of town,” Mr. Wood told the News-Press. “We still have some problems with (the) homeless doing drugs and sleeping in the alleyways but not to the same degree as the areas a few blocks up State Street.”
Hayward’s 1890 is located at 7 Parker Way. Mr. Wood told the News-Press that the building’s original address was 315 State St., before Caltrans built the freeway overcrossing.
“The building is part of the old Buick dealership that my grandfather built in the early 1920s. Hayward’s has rented the building for over 10 years,” Mr. Wood told the News-Press.
“The biggest problem with the homeless is their occupancy between the freeway and the building,” he said. “It’s a dangerous and unsanitary condition that Caltrans has had some success addressing lately.”
“We have been lucky in that this lower end of State Street is now encompassed within the Funk Zone and the commercial atmosphere has improved,” Mr. Wood said. “This happened with a little luck and the foresight of individual entrepreneurs in the area.”
Mr. Wood praised Kelly Brown, owner of The Natural Cafe, whose letter to his landlord stating his intention not to renew his lease contained several criticisms of conditions on State Street, including increased number of rats feeding off scraps that fall from the outdoor dining parklets, speeding skateboarders and bicyclists posing safety risks to pedestrians, and homeless people who aggressively panhandle, drink and use drugs in public.
Other restaurateurs and bar owners have joined in some of his complaints, but Mr. Wood is the first landlord/building owner to go public in the News-Press and echo some of their concerns.
“I want to thank you for publishing Mr. Brown’s comments about State Street,” he told the News-Press. “I am glad to see he has the guts to tell it like it is. Please pass along my appreciation to him for sticking to his guns and not caving in to his detractors.”
The owner of Hayward’s declined to comment on Mr. Wood’s remarks.
City of Santa Barbara officials note they have programs in place or in the works to trap the rats, separate bikers/skateboarders from pedestrians, clean the streets and sidewalks (another complaint by Mr. Brown) — and help the homeless get the services and shelter they need.
But Mr. Brown and other business owners say the city’s efforts are simply not enough to take care of these problems, especially the homeless roaming lower State Street. Of most concern are those who aggressively beg passersby for money and/or those who are either mentally ill or under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol.
Mr. Brown said some homeless people near The Natural Cafe aggressively panhandle, urinate in his planters, lock themselves in his bathroom and bathe or drink alcohol, and use drugs in public.
A nearby restaurant manager said she’s found homeless people sleeping in their outdoor patio and seen evidence that they pee on their fence and use illegal drugs on site.
A bar manager told the News-Press he’s seen homeless people standing naked and shouting at the sky, and he observed others walking around late at night who “look like zombies” straight out of the 1968 film “Night of the Living Dead.”
And now some residents have joined the public outcry, contacting the News-Press with their own observations of homeless people on State Street.
“A lot of your article just shows how ‘used to it’ the city people have become,” Mike Cregan wrote in an email. “I go down State Street often, and it is very common to hear people shouting at others, doing very strange things, and asking for money. It has become, basically, an open air mental asylum. No amount of happy talk changes that.”
In another email to the News-Press, J. Lasalle wrote, “Consider the horror of our cruise ship visitors …Beautiful SB – the first thing they see are homeless and tweakers.
“May I suggest counters to add up the newly housed and the money spent as the year passes? Can’t get the data? Another reason to push those charged with doing the job.
“ … The more you can keep these issues front and center, the more we’ll get movement from the institutions that need to get the job done. I do understand how difficult it is to get things done. I don’t think that should stop accountability.”