Mayor Randy Rowse is appealing to Santa Barbara residents and business owners to “collectively work together to focus on solutions” to the chronic problems some say plague lower State Street and to “celebrate small victories and improvements” that have been made to date.
The mayor said continued “hyperbolic rhetoric” about these problems does nothing to improve the situation.
“At some point, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he told the News-Press. “I can point to programmatic improvements, but people who want to repeatedly complain about everything they see are going to do so regardless. If we don’t celebrate small victories and improvements, the trajectory of our efforts will eventually decline.”
He pointed in particular to criticism by Kelly Brown, owner of The Natural Cafe at 508 State St., about aggressive panhandling by some homeless people and the public consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs, speeding bikers/skateboarders posing safety risks to pedestrians and rats feeding off of scraps falling off of outdoor parklet tables; and by downtown landlord Vince Brown, co-owner of the building housing Hayward’s 1890, an outdoor furniture store at 7 Parker Way, who complained about homeless persons “doing drugs” and sleeping in nearby alleyways.
“The city has really done nothing to improve this area of town,” Mr. Wood previously told the News-Press.
Mayor Rowse acknowledged these problems persist but insists the city is tackling these issues the best it can.
“The issues that Vince and Kelly talk about are chronic and vary from time to time by matters of degree,” he said. “Hyperbolic rhetoric which paints downtown as a western Calcutta only serves to make the problem worse by warning people to avoid the area.”
City officials note they have programs in place or in the works to trap the rats, separate bikers/skateboarders from pedestrians, clean the street and sidewalks, and help the homeless get the services and shelter they need, while police work to enforce the law against public consumption of alcohol and illegal drugs.
Mayor Rowse noted Sunday that the city has conducted a recent deep cleaning of State Street, and has hung more string lights for the holidays to literally brighten up the downtown area.
He suggested that business owners leave on their entryway lights as part of a “team effort to liven up the street” while at the same time improving security downtown.
In addition, he said city staff has increased its outreach to engage people and business owners on the east and west sides of State Street to listen to their concerns.
“”We’ve really upped our outreach,” he said. “Staff is really trying to double down on their efforts to the extent they can given our resources.”
And yet the criticism continues, including from people who live outside the city.
“I live in Solvang and recommended a restaurant on State Street to a neighbor,” Sally Howell told the News-Press in an email. “She said, ‘Never mind. Haven’t been there in a long time and won’t go there now no matter how good it is.’ Then it occurred to me that I felt exactly the same! I haven’t either and I won’t either. Bravo to you and to the News-Press for keeping this on the front page! I believe this is the very best way to rattle some cages!”
Mayor Rowse said her “rattle some cages” retort is one he hears constantly.
“It’s one I’ve heard each of the 50 years I’ve lived here,” he said. “I’m always tempted to ask those commenters for their solutions, with the qualifier that the answer be legal and somewhat moral. Crickets is the usual response.
“It doesn’t mean the solutions shouldn’t be sought, but the refusal to see or acknowledge any progress is head-in-the-sand thinking. People have said to me before, ‘you should check with — city and see what they do.’ Ironically, that same city asked me just prior how we handle the same situation. You never reach perfection but improvement is only in the effort and the recognition of same.
“The focus has to be on restoring State Street,” he said. “We need to focus on Santa Barbara and what it’s going to take to make us better.”