On June 27, the Santa Barbara City Council opted to play a rousing game of “kick the can,” thereby sentencing State Street to a minimum of three years of continued closure.
The consultant-aided future design process continues unabated, but the current configuration of downtown has languished in stagnation due to the council’s indecision.
This is not a design issue, but a management problem. The eventual design is not dependent on maintaining the current use of the downtown corridor.
This will be our fourth summer of status quo without innovation, experimentation or a return to aesthetic standards.
I was not in office at the time the street closure was authorized. It was the right thing to do,
providing relief for the beleaguered restaurants that were fighting to stay alive.
But, I don’t think anyone imagined we’d be facing our fourth consecutive summer with no changes, no trial configurations and no cogent policies to handle this interim situation.
While I’ve so far remained at arm’s length, thinking that current conditions were finite and that a strategy was forthcoming, it’s apparent that it’s not the case.
Yet another subcommittee was proposed to, ostensibly, move plans forward.
The current subcommittee’s only tangible product, however, was a rent structure for State Street parklets, which the subcommittee members then joined the full council in voting against.
That rent structure, by the way, was calculated and intended to recover the costs of maintaining the State Street “promenade.” That vote resulted in a $350,000 per year shortfall in our General Fund budget.
It was suggested that, somehow, the inaction was the fault of the city administration, but nothing could be further from the truth.
The seven of us on the City Council dais are precisely where “the buck stops.” Policy decisions don’t happen in advisory subcommittees nor by individual suggestion to the city administrator.They only happen per a majority of the council.
Polling data might be a means by which one takes the political temperature, but is not how
policy is determined.
Information gathering is valuable, but skirting tough decisions by hiring more consultants or seeking out agreeable polling data is not the leadership you deserve. The next formed subcommittee holds no promise of change.
Councilman Eric Friedman proposed a stopgap measure to allow a more tightly defined
“promenade,” while reopening the rest of State Street to linear traffic.
This would have the result of calming bicycle traffic (by the way, did we have a “bike problem” before State Street was closed?), allowing for those with disabilities to access the downtown business corridor and enticing those businesses that rely on traffic for their storefronts.
It also would break the current pattern of an underutilized downtown, and allow property and storefront business owners the opportunity to recover. This, at least, would be a cogent interim proposal.
The eventual work of the State Street Advisory Committee and the consultant continues on
pace. The completion of their task, however, doesn’t suggest a finite timeline for implementation, as we have found out with the numerous previous consultant efforts,
architectural charrettes and public forums.
Change can be good, but only when it isn’t just for “change’s sake.” It must include diversity of needs, have a realistic financial plan and, most of all, be devoid of politics, ideologies or special interests.
Our public commons require those characteristics if we are to be successful.
We need to move to improve our downtown beyond its current condition, and act quickly, before the rate of exodus of businesses increases to the point of no return.
Private properties and some types of businesses have arguably suffered loss of value by the continuation of the well-intended emergency mandate.
Being in business downtown for four decades doesn’t confer “genius” on anyone. I’m living proof of that.
It does, however, give one perspective. Our policies must be inclusive, fair to a diversity
of businesses and encourage new enterprises.
Our current status doesn’t provide that standard and we must move decisively if we are to regain vibrancy and vitality in our downtown business corridor.
The time is not three years from now but now. Right now.