In response to recent articles published in Noozhawk and a Santa Barbara newspaper about parklets and outdoor dining on State Street, and detailing one restaurateur’s opinion, we in the restaurant community who have had very different experiences want to tell the other side of the story.
It’s always tempting to read a gripping and emotional account told from one person’s perspective, and extrapolate that that is generally true for the whole community of which this person is a part.
But to make a fact-based and responsible judgment requires taking into account the many different experiences and perspectives that everyone in a similar role has experienced, and we would submit that the reality is much different for most of us than what this one operator has expressed.
First and foremost, the city and restaurateurs with parklets have been working together for many months to define an interim plan for State Street outdoor dining operations while we make the transition to the new State Street Master Plan that the State Street Advisory Committee and our consultant firm MIG will come up with around the end of 2023.
There have been countless meetings to address issues such as were raised in these recent articles. However, not only are there active solutions being implemented as we speak, but many of us in the restaurant community do not find the issues complained about to be an accurate picture of our experience.
Let’s go right to the issue with the most emotional punch: Cleanliness under parklets. While there are likely operators who should be doing a better job on this we, along with the City of Santa Barbara, have new standards coming into place over the next few months, so this is already being addressed.
But perhaps it would be most instructive to share what two parklet owners found when moving or downsizing their parklets.
Our restaurant, Opal Restaurant & Bar at 1325 State St., in response to neighboring businesses asking that the size of our parklet be reduced to the width of our storefront, removed 20 feet from the structure and underneath found nothing but dirt and a few leaves.
The Little Kitchen, which temporarily moved its parklet at 17 W. Ortega St. to allow the city to resurface the street, again found the same under its structure.
Although we cannot speak for owners who didn’t maintain their parklets well, we would suggest that most parklets would be similar.
And while homelessness continues to be an ongoing problem in some ways, many operators tell an opposite story.
Clay Holdren, of Holdren’s Steaks & Seafood at 512 State St., had a tremendous problem with homeless behavior prior to the closure of State Street, with many horror stories. Instead of getting worse, his experience has been that the problem is tremendously improved, if not completely eliminated, since State Street was closed to automobiles and parklets were allowed to offer outdoor dining.
As claimed in the articles, are there fewer business-oriented lunch diners after the COVID-19 pandemic? Yes. The reason? Many employees have still not returned to their offices.
However, there are many visitors and locals who enjoy the addition of outdoor dining provided by the parklets, so the solution to making State Street dining as attractive to them as the Funk Zone, actually is … the parklets.
By providing enjoyable outdoor dining facilities, our wonderful downtown State Street now has an appeal to visitors and locals that is compelling in a similar way as the atmosphere of the Funk Zone.
If anything, the addition of parklets has provided more reasons for guests to dine on State Street as well as on the waterfront, thus increasing the vibrancy of Santa Barbara as a whole, rather than having it all concentrate in one area.
Are there still issues with the implementation of outdoor dining structures in this area? Sure, but that is precisely what has already been and is being addressed over the coming months. Since outdoor dining has proven to be wildly popular with both locals and visitors, it is sure to be a part of the State Street Master Plan.
In our view, what doesn’t make sense is to urge the removal of outdoor dining parklets now, while the master plan is being created. What does make sense is to do what the City Council has already approved, which is to allow their continuance, and address any aesthetic or cleanliness issues with the new guidelines and requirements.
Again, the city has also already announced such guidelines and requirements, which will be finalized and complied with over the next three months. This allows us to continuously improve our operations without needlessly taking away either the increased economic vitality or the concurrent cultural enrichment these outdoor businesses have brought to State Street.
For any who have been concerned by these recent articles, we would urge the following: Let’s focus on the fact that the general experience of most restaurants and parklets is completely different than the viewpoint expressed in these articles, and, in recognition that there are things to improve, the involved businesses and the city have already been hard at work on making things better, and they will continue to do so until we graduate to the State Street Master Plan that will hold the key to our city’s future vitality, in which we are all deeply invested.
Sincerely submitted, on behalf of our restaurant and hospitality colleagues with outdoor facilities on State Street.
— Richard Yates and Tina Takaya are co-owners of Opal Restaurant & Bar, 1325 State St. The opinions expressed are their own.