Residents address Santa Barbara City Council about aggressive homeless people
The Santa Barbara City Council Tuesday got an update on the State Street Master Plan and its focus on turning lower State Street into a future haven for pedestrians to shop and dine — by keeping the downtown portion of the city’s main artery closed to traffic.
But council members first had to deal with the reality of today’s State Street.
Several public speakers talked about problems they and the city face right now in the form of aggressive homeless people who are violent, threaten, vandalize, panhandle and generally make residents feel unsafe.
Judy Frank from East Beach said she and a companion recently took a stroll up State Street and felt increasingly uncomfortable and vulnerable as they left the downtown area and the security that light from the restaurants and bars there provided.
Along the way, she said they saw more and more homeless people lying or sitting in store doorways and the area became more and more dark, vacant and run down.
“I never want to take this walk again,” she said. Maybe if council members took the same walk they did, she said, they might take more steps to protect the city and its residents.
Jonathan Pu’u, owner of Pu’u Muay Thai Santa Barbara, a martial arts studio on State Street, told how he’s been personally threatened no less than five times, once by a man wielding a hatchet.
He talked about how a transient set their Dumpster on fire, how he had to clean up human fecal matter, how another transient exposed himself to staff and then urinated in front of his business, how some homeless people are openly dealing drugs on State Street, and how they’ve had to deal with handful of drug overdoses.
And Rebecca Brand spoke about how she heard a rock hit the front window of Rudy’s restaurant as she walked by on Christmas Eve and watched it shatter right in front of her. She also told about how a homeless woman who was there attacked her, grabbed her phone and hurt her in the process.
She said she posted what happened on her local social media site, and to date it has received 1,139 comments.
“I am a victim,” Ms. Brand said. “This has to stop. They have to be held accountable. It is your duty to keep people safe.”
After the public comments, council members moved through their agenda to get to the main event: the progress report on the State Street Master Plan.
Along the way, they approved a new mayor pro tempore: Alejandra Gutierrez, named three council members to the Ordinance Committee: Oscar Gutierrez (new chair), Kristen Sneddon and Mike Jordan, and selected three council members to the Finance Committee: Eric Friedman (chair, continuing in his role), Meagan Harmon and Alejandra Gutierrez.
Then the floor was opened for Tess Harris, the city’s State Street master planner, to update the council on the progress made so far, and much of it focused on how hard she and others have worked to reach out to all segments of the community and get their comments about how they see the future of State Street.
In addition to design workshops and community forums, a survey was conducted in which more than 6,000 people participated, she said.
Nearly 90%, she said, cited eating and drinking as the main reason why they visit downtown, in addition to the opportunity to see and mingle with other people. And 79% said they wanted to see lower State Street continue to be closed to traffic.
“They’re thrilled just to be in this space,” she said, adding that people want to live, work and play in the heart of downtown.
“The community cares about what we do,” she said. “They already feel the excitement, and this can continue to be enhanced.”
Ms. Harris said the design of the Master Plan should be completed by the end of the year or in early 2024, which then would be followed through implementation of the plan in phases.
She said she would return to the council in April for an update on the initial design plans.
Dave Davis, chair of the State Street Advisory Committee that is guiding the Master Plan process, said the plan needs to focus on “flat (no curbs), flexibility and fun.”
He especially was pleased with the level of community engagement achieved thus far, saying it falls within the top 1% of all projects he’s been involved with in 45 years.
Several council members praised the efforts made to date.
“This is not just informational,” Councilmember Mike Jordan said. “It is truly more of a transformational validation.”
Councilmember Sneddon called the presentation “very impressive.”
“Just keep it up and way to go,” she said.
She asked about how best to deal with the increasing numbers of bicyclists speeding down State Street and endangering pedestrians. She was told this is an issue to be dealt with now as part of the interim plans for State Street and not covered by the State Street Master Plan.
She withdrew her question, but vowed it would be dealt with at a later date.