Downtown’s problems actually could be solved quickly
Though I now live in Solvang, my Santa Barbara roots began in the third grade when we moved from Pasadena. My father was looking for a smaller community to establish his business and for the wonderful climate.
As you would expect, Santa Barbara was much different then.
Lower State Street had strip clubs and porn shops, and you just never went there. But a few blocks up, you had a classic mom-and-pop hardware store, Ott’s, Woolworth, names long since forgotten.
A recent story about the Natural Café closing after 30 years prompted me to shift my focus this week from national politics to local.
One thing that has always bothered me in government is the millions of dollars spent for outside-of-the-community consultants to tell the locals what they should be doing. Such is the case with nearly $800,000 being spent on an out-of-state firm to figure out a long-term plan for State Street. Color me stupid but I don’t get it.
Kelly Brown, owner of the Natural Café, said it himself, “We need to remove the parklets, clean up State Street and police it. Why is it so hard for the city to do these simple things?”
Our federal government and state brain trusts had no idea what they were doing when they decided the best thing for the country was to shut it all down. That would end COVID, and they would be patted on the back for a job well done protecting the people. As it turned out, they screwed things up even more than we will ever be able to accurately calculate.
And politics entered the picture and made an even bigger mess of it all. As public pressure mounted and restaurants were falling faster than hail during a tornado, a compromise was reached because supposedly eating outside was safer than inside. And voila, parklets sprouted overnight.
As was pointed out at the recent joint Santa Barbara Planning Commission and Historic Landmarks Commission meeting, outdoor dining has been in existence a long time and successfully the world over. Fifty years ago, as a teenager, I traveled Europe, and I don’t ever recall eating inside anywhere. Even back then outside dining was on the sidewalks, and things worked harmoniously with pedestrians and vehicles alike.
As Kelly Brown also pointed out, the solution can be very simple. Have seating on the sidewalk. Still consider keeping a section of State closed, for a while or not. Enforce the walking of bikes. And if need be, use the money saved by not hiring outside services and hire part-time staff instead to make sure the rude people who don’t follow instructions are kept in line. Boom! Done!
No place for rats to hide, no need to figure out how to design parklets. And Santa Barbara can hold parades again.
For the love of business, give the restaurants a break, and don’t try and gouge them for more fees. Remember, the city is willing to squander hundreds of thousands of dollars to have someone else tell them what to do. Don’t put that booboo on the backs of business.
State Street went from a very shady place to a show place, and now it’s reversing course.
Back in the day, the in-thing to do was wander State Street, especially over the holidays for Christmas shopping or just to get into the spirit of the season. It was fun and festive, and the sidewalks were filled with pedestrians. There was no online shopping, no Amazon, and no Paseo Nuevo or La Cumbre Plaza. All retail was focused downtown, and it was the place to be.
Actually, the only place.
I don’t go into Santa Barbara anymore.
First, as we get older, I don’t want to deal with traffic and lots of people. And now with all the homeless mess, I’m even less motivated.
Good laws are created to prevent anarchy. To maintain an organized and civilized society. We’ve become very slack in enforcing them, and when laws are no longer enforced, the “rats” take over. And on State Street, this is apparently literally as well as figuratively.
I used to love Santa Barbara, and in my heart I still do. But it’s not the same place I grew up in.
The city of Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara County are known the world over as one of the worst places to try and do business, especially in the dreaded world of a developer. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course.
But too many people in the “decision kitchen” create chaos and pile regulation upon regulation to the point even those in charge lose track of what can and can’t be done. And if they don’t like something, they’ll create another roadblock. But that’s another story.
Back to State Street. The city needs to find that happy place, work with and embrace the businesses. It’s been said when you reach a compromise and both sides are unhappy, you’ve accomplished what you set out to do.
Things are still tough in America, and it’s not looking like it will be getting better anytime soon.
It’s not all that complicated to make State Street a show place again, but it’s going to take some tough love. Still, the solutions can happen in weeks — not years — with solid decision makers.
As Mr. Brown said, “Seems like job No. 1 to me.”
Henry Schulte welcomes questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.