The fate of State Street is on the line again Tuesday when the Santa Barbara City Council is set to extend the downtown street closure to vehicles through 2026 or until the State Street Master Plan is completed.
Ensberg has put forward some sketches that she hopes will offer the council and City of Santa Barbara staff an option that accommodates bicycles, cars, people and outdoor dining.
“Aren’t we a community who cares about everyone?” Ensberg asked. “I want as many people as possible in this town to be successful. That’s what Santa Barbara is all about.”
In the summer of 2020, the city closed nine blocks of State Street to motor vehicles. Three years later, the street is still closed between Haley and Sola streets, and community leaders are scrambling to figure out a long-term solution.
A State Street Advisory Committee is working with an $800,000 consultant on a multitude of plans, but that effort could take four more years, and there is no current source of funding for any construction work.
In the meantime, the city is trying to get a handle on outdoor dining and parklets, and to what degree bicycles should be allowed on State Street.
Restaurant owners want to keep their outdoor dining, but other business leaders have expressed a desire to return State Street to pre-coronavirus pandemic conditions.
Ensberg said the city needs to think of its elder population, and people with disabilities, too. She has a 94-year-old mother, and it’s difficult to bring her downtown and feel safe.
“We took away equal access to State Street and that area by removing any kind of vehicles,” she said.
In her sketches, Ensberg allows for the return of vehicles, but with a focus on trolleys that allow seniors and people with disabilities who may not be able to ride a bike to enjoy downtown. Bicycles would also be allowed on State Street.
The trolley service would operate on both sides of State Street, she said.
“You’ve opened it for everybody,” she said. “It makes fewer obstacles for people like my mom, in a wheelchair.”
Outdoor dining is moved to the sidewalks and the planters on many of the sidewalks are removed to make way for tables. She said outdoor dining should be part of the State Street experience, but not on the street.
“This to me has to get restored, tomorrow,” Ensberg said. “Tomorrow.”
Ensberg is a member of the Historic Landmarks Commission, but she noted that her suggestions are her own, and not representative of the design panel.
She created the sketches on her own time and provided them for free.
Ensberg said returning State Street to allow cars and trolleys will allow the advisory committee to come up with a long-term solution that may or may not involve vehicles.
If the City Council agrees on Tuesday to extend the downtown State Street closure between the 500 and 1300 blocks to cars, it will also decide whether to eliminate outdoor dining in the public right-of-way everywhere else in the city.
City staff recommends eliminating the outdoor dining parklets on public property outside of the 500 to 1300 blocks of State Street.
Temporary outdoor dining on private property outside of the 500 through 1300 blocks of State Street would be eliminated unless the owner secures the appropriate permits, according to the city staff recommendation.
Ensberg said a solution exists that includes all modes of transportation because residents have diverse needs. She hopes the council will figure out a way.
“Don’t tell me how you can’t do it,” she said. “Tell me how you can do it.”
City Councilwoman Meagan Harmon, whose district includes State Street, said she is appreciative of the energy and passion around the issue.
“I’ve always been and continue to be a strong and vocal supporter of both our promenade and a robust outdoor dining program across the city,” she said.
“I believe it is time for us to move forward to develop a cohesive policy that allows us to retain those programs, especially during this period while the State Street master planning committee is doing the important work of visioning a bold future for our downtown.”
Harmon said she understands people’s frustrations.
“Tuesday’s conversation will, I hope, begin to ameliorate that frustration by moving us from an ‘emergency’ framework toward a set of coherent, reliable ordinances that our local businesses can depend on,” she said.