Did You Know? Bonnie Donovan
Our beloved former Santa Barbara Mayor Sheila Lodge recently stated that “… creativity can be expressed even with guidelines and standards. Residents and visitors alike love Santa Barbara’s world famous iconic architectural tradition. It can and must be maintained with the creativity already demonstrated. …”
She was responding to local architect Robert Ooley’s complaints that local review boards narrow the architect’s innovative efforts despite their First Amendment rights of self-expression.
Now the shoe appears to be on the other foot.
Under the cover of COVID-19, many feel their First Amendment rights narrowed as they watch their own town disappear in look and feel, as projects are fast tracked, with little public input.
Downtown Santa Barbara — with a mismatch of parklets, string lights, decorative sashes and people spilling out into the street — looks like a third-world bazaar.
The pedestrian promenade lacks polish but is necessary per the government demands due to restraints of COVID.
The historic train station — two blocks from the beach, with cardboard houses, tents, garbage thrown over the berm of the railroad tracks — and people and their belongings spilling out onto the beaches, the parks, the freeway ramps and the corner, all extend this image.
How long has the man with a train of grocery carts been allowed to block the sidewalk on Milpas Street? For years.
This has nothing to do with COVID, but a lackluster city council that has chased imaginary blue lines and now paints green rectangles on State Street in the middle of Santa Barbara’s historical downtown area, El Pueblo Viejo.
Have you seen the corner vendors selling mango on a stick, fake flowers, etc.? They are growing in numbers. It appears our city council has approved of these street merchants, hawking their goods from a plywood stand, who we suspect have no permits.
Restaurants must adhere to health and safety regulations, pay sales taxes, rent, etc. They have paid for parklets, in order to conduct some business, although they risk being closed at a moment’s notice by Gov. Newsom’s decree.
We ask again: What gives?
Where is the equity in this allowance by our local government? We are fine with equity, for everybody. Is this the replacement for retail lost on State Street?
Mayor Cathy Murrillo, running for re-election in November, has suggested that property owners be levied a new tax to pay for the homeless situation our local government has thrown money at for decades which have resulted in more homeless.
It is like Jack and the Beanstalk — they throw money at it and the problem grows. Is this the narrative of the Democratic National Convention? To end private property? The easiest way is to tax you out of your property.
Can some free thinkers please come to our aid, who will be representatives that want a government of the people, by the people and for the people?
Zoom meetings are no comparison for a room-packed audience of people who care. During in-person meetings, the people see the number of others concerned and are willing to show up. That promotes participation and hopes that your voice matters. It is also a red flag to the applicants, developers or boards that the public is paying attention and cares about its neighborhoods.
Case in point: Here’s a result of the COVID-induced Zoom meetings that are basically talking heads in boxes. No one knows how many people are in attendance, not even board members.
During open public comment during the single-family design board meeting on Feb. 16, citizen Rick Closson voiced his concerns to the board that the lack of “visual” participation by the citizenry thwarted the process of public input.
He also noted that the minutes are not documented well enough for one to refer to a certain aspect of a subject (windows vs. landscaping) for future project meetings. Plus, how can minutes be approved if there is no content except that “Joe spoke”? What did Joe speak about?
Staff’s documentation is lacking — to a point of subterfuge.
If there is no discernible documentation, can it not be doctored?
Mr. Closson requested that written correspondence received by the board with the writer’s name and a single phrase or sentence describing the content be announced by the secretary and added to the minutes. The same would apply for any speaker during public comment with a brief summary.
Mr. Closson also asked that the number of virtual attendees who are present should be announced at the beginning of each agenda item or project. That would be similar to how an audience might know how many in-person attendees were present during a pre-COVID meeting.
In a letter Mr. Closson sent to the city attorney, he stated his concern is with the loss of public communication in general during this time of the city’s virtual meetings. We hear a lot today about the frailty of democracy and the need to work at it constantly. The same could be said at our local level for a basic tenet of democracy. The speech part. The public voice is too precious not to receive special treatment.
Mr. Closson requested that the city attorney “revisit the reasoning that hides writers and content of agenda-related correspondence from public disclosure in meeting minutes.”
And during this temporary time of Zoom meetings, transportation’s Rob Dayton celebrated St. Patrick’s Day early. We can think of no other reason for the painted green rectangles down State Street, except that he is in lock step with the Santa Barbara Bicycle Coalition.
During the city council meeting March 9, he revealed he listed the coalition for the State Street Subcommittee. The committee is to transform the mishmash of a promenade that will be worthy of Santa Barbara.
Just as the Architectural Board of Review, Planning Commission, city council, etc. make field trips to become familiar with an appealed project and the surroundings, a suggestion is that this State Street committee take a field trip with Jason Harris, the city’s economic development manager, and walk on Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade. Mr. Harris, hired from Santa Monica, should be familiar with the problems of bikes when creating an inviting and safe pedestrian promenade.
Admittedly, Santa Monica’s Third Street is only three blocks long and dead ends into an upscale shopping mall.
Santa Barbara citizens have complained numerous times regarding being hit by bikes and involved in near misses. We ask the city, with no action taken to remove bikes from State Street, who will the injured party sue? The city?
Because of the COVID closures, State Street restaurant owners could make emergency accommodations to stay in business.
After complaints from the citizens of the deplorable look of State Street, the city created the State Street Master Plan Advisory Committee to address the future of State Street, now the promenade. The city council voted that this advisory committee consist of three council members, one Historic Landmarks commissioner, one planning commissioner, three positions for business and/or property owners, and the rest from the community for a total of 15.
Since this committee brings its report to the city council, wouldn’t it be better for one voice from each group, and increase the property owners and business owners to three each, with the remaining six as community members? The landowners and the business owners are the key to this success.
Celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, a special day for all of us, the lucky ones who live in this great country. Everybody is Irish on St Patrick’s day. Wear green.
“May your home be too small to hold all your friends.”
— Irish Blessing