It’s quite the kerfuffle on Coast Village Road.
Should the parklets continue to provide a unique outdoor dining experience or are the supposedly momentary structures, which were meant to be an economic buffer from pandemic losses, making parking too untenable?
Parklets — makeshift outdoor structures to accommodate outdoor dining and other businesses — sprouted up in many places during the COVID-19 pandemic, including on State Street in Santa Barbara.
The city’s Emergency Economic Recovery Ordinance, which was extended until December 2023, allowed for restaurants, wineries and breweries to establish temporary outdoor dining spaces next to their businesses, utilizing parking spots, sidewalks and other similar property.
On State Street, that meant the roadway was shuttered to vehicle traffic in certain areas, allowing for pedestrians to traipse the corridor and frequent restaurants while eating outside.
However, on Coast Village Road, the proliferation of parklets meant the sacrifice of parking along the busy street, which is part of incorporated Santa Barbara.
“It’s a difficult topic to embrace,” Rob Miller, the vice president of the Coast Village Association, told the News-Press. “We really appreciate the benefit (parklets have) provided to the restaurants during the lockdown, to keep them going and all of their employees. That’s definitely been beneficial.”
“But here, we lost parking spaces to create the extra space for the restaurants,” Mr. Miller continued. “Parking is at a premium here as it is. That has definitely affected other retailers and tenants on the street.”
Mayor Randy Rowse said he’s heard from people on all sides of the issue and is open to ideas on how to alleviate the parking problem. But he wants the solution to be sustainable long-term.
“There’s very little more precious on Coast Village Road than parking,” Mayor Rowse told the News-Press. “The biggest thing to me is: What do the people want to do? I don’t just mean the people who have restaurants and parklets. And it takes more than a survey to figure that out. You’ve got to get the stakeholders who are there, day in and day out.”
Mr. Miller said he believed enforcement of existing parking regulations could mitigate the problem.
“We’ve discussed that with the city, and the city doesn’t have the staffing to do that right now. They’re responsive when we call them, but they can’t post somebody up out here,” Mr. Miller said.
“There is a time limit on the parking, but if people aren’t thinking they’re going to get a ticket, they don’t necessarily pay attention to that,” he continued. “It’s more convenient to park in front of their office on Coast Village than to park on the street behind and walk.”
Jessica Grant, the interim public works downtown manager, confirmed that a citywide staffing shortage has contributed to a lack of parking enforcement across Santa Barbara, including near Coast Village Road.
Ms. Grant said any changes to the economic recovery ordinance or parklet rules would need to be made by the city council.
“We’re still investigating some of the issues related to Coast Village Road,” Ms. Grant told the News-Press.
The Coast Village area is in the process of becoming a Community Benefit Improvement District. Property owners in support of the CBID said the funds from assessments levied on the properties within the district should be used for maintenance and landscape, marketing and public relations to drive business to the area, special events and more.
Mr. Miller suggested the CBID would be able to address some of the issues raised by the ongoing parklets versus parking dispute.
“To me, that’s exactly who we should hear from, if they want to change anything about what we’re doing currently,” Mayor Rowse said of the potential CBID.
But not all retail employees are upset by the parklets.
Kelsey Whittaker, a manager at Angel on Coast Village Road, said parklets haven’t impacted the clothing store much because there aren’t any nearby and the store has its own parking lot. Ms. Whittaker said she has enjoyed frequenting the parklets in the neighborhood.