Downtown Santa Barbara
Vision vacancy on State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The city of Santa Barbara has a reputation for being business unfriendly, having an overly complicated permitting process, and “retail is undergoing dramatic changes as a result of the Internet and social media.”

These were just three of the not-very-shocking findings contained in an Manhattan Beach-based consultant’s report for how to fix downtown Santa Barbara.

The long-awaited Kosmont Report cost $84,000 and is 87 pages of observations, suggestions and recommendations — most of which came up during the mayoral campaign two years ago, and in a variety of public and private conversations with just about anyone since. 

The report offers the following conclusions:

» The permit process for new retailers is expensive and high risk.

» It’s difficult to maintain a quality workforce due to the high cost of housing.

» Some landlords are not motivated to lower rents due to past elevated rent expectations.

» Vagrancy is hurting the image of State Street.

» Residents want to see increased police presence on State Street.

» The city’s 2017 Accelerated Permit Program is perceived by stakeholders as not effective.

» The Historic Landmarks Commission’s approval procedures are lengthy, costly and uncertain.

“The Kosmont Report is what we as property/business owners have been telling City Hall and the Planning Department for years,” said Ray Mahboob, a downtown property owner. “Now our City Council needs to execute on the recommendations ASAP without any more delays. No more consultants and no more committees.”

The report cites Boulder, Colorado, Campus Martius Park in Detroit, Michigan, and the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Virginia, as places where pedestrian malls thrive, hinting at a possibility for State Street, for a stretch of about three blocks.

The report also suggests that the city should hire an economic development director to help lead the efforts to revive and oversee downtown. 

The city needs to plan for millennials, the report states: “Millennials (ages 18-34) are the largest demographic group in Santa Barbara (28 percent), and future retail and housing uses need to take this into consideration.”

People with a median age of 36 are called “trendsetters,” and are “educated, young singles.”

“Many live in upscale, urban, multi-unit buildings, and are willing to pay well above the U.S. average rent,” according to the report. “Many hold well-paid jobs and prefer to spend than save. Image is important to these consumers and they use the Internet to keep up with styles and trends and shop around for good deals.

“Consumers prefer to shop online and at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods for groceries.”

About 9 percent of Santa Barbara’s population are “ex-urbanites,” people who have a median age of 51, are majority white, and are beginning to retire, according to the report.

“Majority live in owner-occupied, single-family homes,” the report states. “Gardening and home improvement are priorities. Many residents use a number of services from home to personal care and prefer natural/organic products.”

Along State Street, retailers have seen a 15-percent annual sales decline over the past five years. Of a total of 1.5 million square feet in retail space downtown, about one-third is not supportable in the long term unless there are more customers, residents, and office workers downtown, the report states.

The consultants urge the city to “provide easy permits for temporary pop-up users, facilitate infill housing or live/work space in back of vacant buildings along State Street, and incentivize a blend of residential, office, and hotel reuse of vacant commercial buildings.

The city should also facilitate development of new workforce housing downtown, including microunits between Chapala and Anacapa streets, the report states.

The city, according to the report, should allow amplified music after 10 p.m., and the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District should expand bus services for State Street workers and visitors. 

In additional, the city needs to increase special events and “consider a concept of monthly or more frequent community events in downtown.”

De la Guerra Plaza could host arts and music events, the report states.

The City Council plans a special 4 p.m. meeting Thursday at Santa Barbara City Hall to talk about the report. 

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.