Merchants, restaurateurs, city of Santa Barbara discuss Coast Village Road’s future
City officials and more than a dozen individuals representing retail, restaurants, and residents met in a conference room at the Montecito Inn on Friday to discuss the ongoing debate surrounding restaurant parklets on Coast Village Road.
At the heart of the morning conversation was the impact that the COVID-era parklets are having on the already scarce parking availability of Coast Village Road and Coast Village Circle, which has also been exacerbated by ongoing construction on Highway 101.
While the atmosphere of the hour-long forum remained civil, retail store owners and restaurateurs were clearly divided over whether the parklets should remain.
Retail owners said they supported the parklets when indoor dining was restricted due to the pandemic.
But they added that the time had come to remove the parklets to free-up parking spaces that help bring in customers to retail and other business establishments along Coast Village Road and Coast Village Circle.
The Montecito streets are within the city limits of Santa Barbara.
“Overall, my impression is that the city in establishing the parklet program at the time they did during the pandemic was absolutely the right decision, and I think it helped and saved a lot of restaurants, and that was great to see,” K. Frank clothing proprietor Kevin Frank told the News-Press after the forum.
“But now as tourism has returned and the street and our town are significantly more busy, the loss of parking has created a hardship on the community and all the businesses, with the exception of those restaurants (with parklets), for equal access to the street.”
However, despite his stance, Mr. Frank also expressed disappointment in the fact that there didn’t appear to be a readily available solution to the parklet issue short of their removal.
“Our sidewalks are for the most part pretty narrow on Coast Village Road, and we have no facilities for a lot of cars as State Street does with the (public city lots and garages),” he said. “So the solutions I think are unfortunately pretty limited. I would love reimagining the street with wider sidewalks and public spaces for the restaurants to enjoy outdoor dining and have that aspect. But that’s obviously a huge capital project that’s not going to happen anytime soon.”
Restaurateurs, however, respectfully pushed back on the idea that parklets were no longer necessary for their businesses to continue to thrive. They noted that inflation and economic uncertainty has followed the pandemic — to the detriment of the industry’s notoriously tight profit margins.
“The circumstances have changed a lot since two years ago,” Pierre Henry of Bree’osh Café explained during the forum. “Food costs increased, (city) tax costs increased, operating costs increased, and it’s more expensive to hire people.
“We are doing good business, but because everything increased. If we get rid of our parklet, it’s like cutting the business (in half),” he said. “If we cut the business (in half) right now, it would make the situation very very tricky for us and most of the businesses (on Coast Village Road).”
Another restaurateur added that expanding their space with the use of parklets had allowed them to bring on more employees to the benefit of the local economy, and that their removal would necessarily result in staffing cutbacks to accommodate a smaller space.
Also at the forum was Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse, who said that city enforcement regarding regulations such as uniform building codes, ADA accessibility and crossing public right-of-ways with open food — which have been laxly enforced since the onset of the pandemic to accommodate restaurants — will eventually begin to play a role in regards to how the city moves forward with parklets.
“All of those standards at some point in time are going to start filtering back in, and we’re all going to have to pay attention to them,” Mayor Rowse said during the forum. “Whether we like it or not, or whether (the City Council) is making decisions or not, all of those (regulations) are going to come back into play, and everybody should be aware and prepared for that. We just can’t confer public right-away on anybody we feel like doing so, there’s got to be a logic process and legal process behind that.”