Downtown State Street
Downtown State Street now features outdoor restaurant dining in the street, a response to the coronavirus pandemic and the restrictions on indoor service. The street’s “temporary” transformation into a pedestrian promenade is likely to continue indefinitely. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Nine out of 10 people support the City of Santa Barbara’s decision to close part of State Street downtown to cars, according to a new survey, which also determined that 40 percent of respondents would like to see the closure extend beyond the current stretch between Haley and Sola streets.

AIA Santa Barbara conducted an online survey between July 15 and Aug. 9 as part of its ongoing design charrette to “reinvigorate, reinvent, reimagine and repurpose” downtown Santa Barbara.

Nearly 4,800 people responded to the survey, with 98 percent of them residents of the South Coast between Carpinteria and Isla Vista.

“The results mirror the feedback that I’ve received from neighbors, that the promenade is extremely highly regarded, and that it has totally revitalized and reinvigorated a ‘sense of place’ in our downtown,” said Councilwoman Meagan Harmon, who lives downtown.

Santa Barbara is currently experiencing a downtown revitalization, even amid the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the coronavirus crisis forced city officials out of their malaise, motivating them to close nine blocks of State Street so restaurants could expand their outdoor dining since indoor service has been prohibited.

Under the COVID-19 emergency, the city was able close the street overnight, a process that typically would have required months — or even years — of deliberation.

Much of the public had anecdotally resisted the street closure over the last three decades, but that was during better economic times for retail stores and restaurants.

In the last several years, however, downtown Santa Barbara has been struggling with high storefront vacancies, aggressive panhandling and slow turnarounds for permitting and development. Once the coronavirus hit, the atmosphere deteriorated so badly that city leaders could no longer justify not closing State Street.

In fact, many architects and alternative transportation advocates had been pining for the street closure for years. AIA Santa Barbara’s charrette is meant to explore ways to create a downtown that encourages vitality, vibrancy and sustainability.

Other survey results showed that 56 percent of respondents support pedestrians and cyclists sharing State Street while 35 percent want only pedestrians on the street.

On the issue of downtown housing, 63 percent of respondents want to see more housing in the neighborhood, with 57 percent calling for one- and two-bedroom apartments.

Despite much of the rhetoric from urban planners and architects about people who live downtown not wanting cars, 64 percent of the respondents said they would still want to own a car if they lived downtown and 91 percent said they would be willing to pay extra to have a parking space near their residence.

About 60 percent said they would consider living downtown; 94 percent thought a maximum height of three stories or more was appropriate.

The survey also asked about the downtown outdoor space. Among the respondents, 91 percent want music outside, 84 percent want more public art, 63 percent support food trucks and 50 percent want to see children’s play areas.

“As the survey results indicate, some work remains to be done to ensure the long-term success of State Street and our downtown core,” Harmon said. “As the data show, there are questions relating to pedestrian-cyclist relations, and to facilitating housing and mixed-use development downtown.

“These are the questions our community will need to answer as we dig into State Street’s future, and AIA’s efforts are a significant step on the path toward doing so.”

The AIA received 4,752 responses in English and 12 in Spanish.

“Our assumptions about large retail and office space as the foundation of our downtowns are being shattered,” said architect Dennis Thompson of Thompson Naylor Architects.

“The level of interest and concern about downtown Santa Barbara’s health is demonstrated by the nearly 5,000 survey responses the AIA has received and the 150-plus design professionals who will volunteer their time this month and next to ‘Repurpose, Reimagine, Reuse and Re-envision Downtown State Street.’”

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

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at