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Tuesday, December 11 , 2018, 2:50 pm | Fair 66º


Santa Barbara Set to Unseat Benches Along State Street

Downtown businesses support the proposed $50,000 relocation project to address aggressive panhandling and update area sidewalks

The city of Santa Barbara Redevelopment Agency is getting closer to construction of a $50,000 project to move and reorient some benches on State Street.

Fourteen benches will be moved or reoriented, and six bike hitching posts and four newspaper dispensers will be moved from the 800 and 900 blocks of State Street as a “response to public concern about aggressive panhandling,” according to the RDA’s Web site. Click here for details.

RDA staff member Marck Aguilar said the reasons are really twofold, with the program aimed at reducing aggressive panhandling and updating the area’s sidewalks.

“One element we can offer toward (reducing aggressive panhandling) is we can modify the environment to some degree” through capital projects, he said.

The idea was fueled by downtown merchants and people who run cultural establishments, according to Randy Rowse, vice president of the Downtown Organization. Rowse, newly appointed to the City Council meeting, said the organization wants to maximize pedestrian walkways and a benign atmosphere, but it doesn’t have the capital funding to carry out that kind of project internally.

The City Council adopted an ordinance prohibiting abusive panhandling in August 2009, and though there are many complaints, it’s not easy to establish it and prove it since panhandling itself is legal, Santa Barbara Police Department spokesman Paul McCaffrey said.

“The benches are available for everyone, which does include the homeless but wasn’t meant to be just the homeless,” said McCaffrey, adding that most complaints involve the presence of transients who use the benches to camp out on, often all day long.

“We get complaints of panhandling to be sure and respond to that all the time, but ... I don’t think our enforcement of aggressive panhandling is, as far as crimes associated with the homeless population goes, one of our highest in terms of numbers.”

Landscape architecture firm Arcadia Studio, which handled the original State Street sidewalks project in 2001, was brought on to design the layout since it has intimate knowledge of the area, McCaffrey said. As businesses change, pedestrian patterns also change, making an update of the sidewalk layout pertinent at this time.

“This will be the first change we’ve made to any of the blocks since the brick sidewalks were installed,” he said.

To move the benches, concrete pads first must be poured beneath the bricks to which the benches are bolted, as are the bike posts. Even so, the $50,000 price tag may seem high.

“Yes, we agree,” community development director Paul Casey said of the cost.

The cost includes the design contract with Arcadia Studio and all other expenses, and he said the benches are harder to remove than just unbolting them and drilling new holes.

“There’s a little more to it than meets the eye,” Casey said.

The area from Carrillo to De la Guerra streets is a pilot program, and if it’s effective, Aguilar said he expects that the Downtown Organization and other businesses will want to expand it further.

“Let’s do this and see what happens, if anything,” he said. “If there’s not change, and this doesn’t help the businesses and pedestrians and other uses, maybe we’ll change the style of benches or move them around.”

The project will be considered by the Historic Landmarks Commission on Feb. 2, and construction is planned for April.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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