State Street
Retail vacancies, infrastructure problems and nuisance behavior have long vexed State Street in downtown Santa Barbara. The challenges have been the focus of Noozhawk’s Reimagine: Santa Barbara project, and will be the subject of a Tuesday meeting of the City Council. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk file photo)

Did you know there are plans to establish a new visitor center and public restroom at the Hotel Californian complex, allow bike share and scooter share programs, and help pop-up businesses find retail space in downtown Santa Barbara?

For the last several years, State Street has been struggling with retail vacancies, infrastructure problems and nuisance behavior.

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The issues — and suggestions to improve them — have been the focus of Noozhawk’s Reimagine: Santa Barbara series for 10 months, and on Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council will get an update on all of the “current downtown revitalization efforts.”

There is a long list of projects, which range from replacing trash cans to throwing more block-party-style events on State Street. Some are initiatives headed by the city, and some have outside organizations taking the lead, such as Downtown Santa Barbara, Women’s Economic Ventures and the Santa Barbara County Office of Arts & Culture.

State Street faces the same challenges now as it did before the Thomas Fire and deadly Montecito flash flooding and debris flows, but it has the added need for regional economic recovery.

Mayor Cathy Murillo and Councilman Randy Rowse asked for the update, inviting public comment to help the city develop ordinances or programs to increase the economic vitality of downtown, according to the memo they sent City Administrator Paul Casey.

Many of the projects are ones the city started working on last fall. Among them:

» A stronger police presence downtown to respond to businesses’ concerns (creating and then recently expanding the Downtown Ambassador program, for one)

» Replacing streetlights with LED fixtures

» Installing wayfinding signage around town

» Adopting smoke-free outdoor public areas rules

» Installing more public art and redesigning the Highway 101 underpass

» Streamlining the permit program for downtown commercial space (the ACCELERATE program)

» Changing the city’s alcohol policy to address nuisance crimes such as drunk in public

Last October, the American Institute of Architects Santa Barbara held a design charrette and made recommendations on a block-by-block basis for downtown State Street, chiefly for the city to create a coalition task force to make a Downtown Specific Plan and zoning ordinance amendments for it.

The task force could include city council members, planning commissioners, architects, business owners and other stakeholders, the charrette participants suggested.

Business organizations — Downtown Santa Barbara and The Chamber of the Santa Barbara Region — have called for more city leadership, in the form of an economic development department, retail recruiter or something like that.

The AIA and other groups have repeatedly suggested changing planning codes to allow more housing downtown, allowing higher density to draw in developers, and allowing residential parking in city lots.

The city’s Housing Task Force has made similar recommendation, and zoning ordinance changes are being considered, according to the project list for Tuesday’s meeting.

Developing a strategic plan, creating an economic development department, turning part of State Street into a pedestrian mall, throwing more city-organized events downtown, allowing more flexible signage requirements, retail recruitment, penalties for long-term vacancies, and other issues are listed as “other ideas to consider based on community input,” but are not part of any ongoing projects, according to the city.

The project list categories cover infrastructure; public safety; business vacancies; transportation and parking; arts and culture; events and marketing; land use planning and permitting; and economic development. Scroll down to read the complete list.

Downtown no longer has dedicated Redevelopment Agency funding for infrastructure upgrades or other projects, and the improvement projects are largely funded by the city, grants, or collaboratively with the city and other organizations.

Tuesday’s City Council meeting starts at 2 p.m. at the City Hall Council Chambers at 735 Anacapa St. The downtown discussion will likely be heard after 3 p.m., according to the city.

Murillo sent letters to city residents announcing the meeting and inviting people to attend to make comments then, or to contact her directly by email, at, or by phone, at 805.564.5322.

Some of the latest developments for downtown-related efforts are the temporary tenants announced for the large Macy’s building (a Halloween costume store and then a Christmas market). Downtown Santa Barbara is hiring a consultant to look into forming a property-based improvement district.

There are already business improvement districts in the city, which levy fees on businesses, but a PBID collects money from property owners in the designated area.

The business improvement district money would go to Downtown Santa Barbara, which is “dedicated to the promotion and enhancement of the business, cultural, community and environmental vitality of downtown Santa Barbara for the benefit of its members.”

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Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Santa Barbara Downtown Revitalization Efforts

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Giana Magnoli, Noozhawk Managing Editor

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at