As mayor, I like to do periodic check-ins with you about what’s been done in the City of Santa Barbara and what is in the works for the near future.
Many of the issues that are perpetually in the forefront are housing availability, water and chronic homelessness. The future configuration and vitality of State Street downtown has been added to the list of top issues.
Here are some of the projects currently in the works:
“Clean, Safe, Secure” was a motto I used during my election campaign and that still defines my purpose, direction and goals.
We have dedicated funds to do a deep cleaning on State Street and to add additional lighting on State Street and some of the side streets to enhance the customer experience and security. That project began just after Fiesta. Other areas, such as the Milpas Street corridor, are also overdue for our attention.
The Public Works Department is improving street conditions per the voters’ desires with Measure C funding, and the Central Library Plaza has broken ground after many years of planning.
The Thousand Steps beach access off Shoreline Drive on the Mesa is nearly complete, and the Andrée Clark Bird Refuge project is underway to improve the beautiful estuary that is our gateway to the Santa Barbara waterfront.
The redesign and construction of a renovated De la Guerra Plaza will bring a serious upgrade to our civic center, and our long-awaited new police station should be coming up out of the ground in the very near future.
In our Parks and Recreation Department, we have two major projects in the works for Dwight Murphy and Ortega parks that will greatly enhance recreational amenities for their East Beach and Lower Eastside neighborhoods, respectively.
Water is a constant issue in this part of the country, but between the excellent planning by staff and the esprit de corps demonstrated by our residents, we not only use almost 30% less water than we did in 2013, but produce almost that again with our desalination plant. While we’re never out of the woods, our careful stewardship of this resource puts us in better stead than many of our sister agencies in California. Regular public updates will continue.
The current transition of Santa Barbara’s downtown is likely the most significant we will see in our lifetime. The COVID-19 pandemic challenged business districts everywhere and strategies for regenerating vitality are being formed.
The emergency closing of downtown State Street to vehicles did help some of our dining establishments survive California’s indoor dining restrictions, and folks are still attracted to wander one of the most fabulous walking streets on the planet.
It wasn’t that long ago that State Street had one of the more enviable occupancy rates in California, and returning to that vibrancy is imperative. There’s a lot of work to do, and that will take a cooperative effort involving the businesses, property owners and government entities. To that end, a master planning effort is underway, which will take time.
However, we can’t wait the years it may take to begin making common-sense changes to State Street. A cogent interim strategy must be established and carried out in the meantime.
We all deserve the “clean, safe, secure” city I’ve been talking about, one that includes a robust dining and shopping experience and highlights the aesthetic elements and architecture that define our downtown.
I am proposing a cooperative partnership to bring accessibility, thorough and regular cleaning, enhanced lighting and structural safety standards to State Street. The plan could include trolley service along the blocks between Stearns Wharf at Cabrillo Boulevard and Victoria Street, coupled with defined and regulated bike lanes.
The goal is to have full occupancy for the business storefronts prior to the adoption of the new State Street master plan. The synergy between various types of businesses is essential to re-establishing vitality downtown.
“Secure” means that a sense of order and civility must prevail throughout our city. Adverse public behavior cannot continue to be tolerated, particularly from individuals who may have the capacity to act otherwise.
Those whose actions are driven by substance use or mental illness, on the other hand, must be contacted, monitored and directed into the types of restorative services that they need. Transitional and permanent supportive housing are certainly part of the formula for addressing these problems, but our concentrated efforts must first address public safety and security for all.
We are currently assembling outreach teams for both downtown and the Eastside to improve support and security. The expanded use of “professional staff” will allow for an authoritative presence multiplier so our police force can focus on crime prevention and public service.
Eventually, the establishment of a “Solutions Court” system to work in concert with Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed “Care Court” system will provide a vehicle for enabling folks to participate in their own personal improvement or circumstances.
The cooperation of our city and county has led to the opening of the Dignity Moves housing project that will house up to 35 people who have been chronically homeless downtown. The success of this project and future ones depend on our ability to maintain order on the street and to control illegal encampments to ensure the continued progress that these services provide.
Our city administrator, Rebecca Bjork, has added new and definitively tasked administrative personnel to expedite projects, achieve environmental goals, enhance public safety oversight and public outreach.
A newly created Sustainability & Resilience Department oversees our energy profile and keeps us ahead of state and federal policy changes. Our Water Resources Department managers have secured the community’s water needs for the next few years, and have strategies for further water conservation improvements. Our community has always exceeded conservation performance requests, and that is just one more thing we can be proud of.
We live in one of the most stunning cities in the world. While I’m honored to serve all of you, I also recognize some of our current shortcomings. I believe that our priority challenges and opportunities can and will be accomplished within the next five years.
I’m always ready to hear from you, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Randy Rowse is Santa Barbara’s mayor. He can be contacted at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are his own.