As the Santa Barbara City Council learned when planning Paseo Nuevo and studying successful strategies in other communities, carefully curated live music and street performance can measurably increase tourist engagement and contribute to a more vibrant downtown.

Steve Epstein

Steve Epstein (The Epstein Partners photo)

However, near as we can tell, Santa Barbara County is one of few in California that has continued to ban all public performances. There appears to be a total ban on all public performances — indoor and out — and a poorly defined policy on what enforcement should look like when it comes to performances on State Street, De la Guerra Plaza, the Harbor, the Rose Garden or Stearns Wharf.

Those who do perform have experienced a range of responses from Santa Barbara police, ranging from an appreciative “thumbs up” to a citation and everything in between.

And while many employment sectors have been allowed to return to work with updated COVID-19 protocols, performance artists of all types are experiencing severe financial impacts stemming from their inability to work, even outdoors.

There is no evidence that public performances are causing large groups to congregate or that these performances are unable to be conducted safely.

It is time to take action to retain this important aspect of Santa Barbara’s character and support our arts community.

We respectfully request that the city administrator and the City Council immediately establish an ad hoc committee to develop and propose strict protocols, for review and approval by the council, before many of our local performers are forced to leave or have to face even harsher financial impacts.

The committee would work in close collaboration with the City of Santa Barbara, including city administrator Paul Casey and economic development manager Jason Harris; the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department; Downtown Santa Barbara; the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce; the Waterfront Department; State Street retailers and restaurateurs; and SBPD to delineate clearly defined and health-conscious protocols.

The committee also would study and model the proposed policies on the ways in which Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade; Boulder, Colo.’s Pearl Street; and Boston’s Quincy Market are effectively managing this aspect of cultural life during the coronavirus pandemic in addition to working with local shop and restaurant owners where applicable.

The committee’s proposal would include such components as:

» A modest city permitting fee for approved acts

» A warning/fine structure for performers who do not adhere to the published policies

» A limited sound level/DB that ambassadors could monitor

» Appropriate spacing between acts with designated performance locations (for instance, two musicians per block, with a nonmusical act in between)

» Performer/performance/anti-crowd congregation protocols, as approved by county public health officials

» Virtual audition of all acts/performers/street artists/for quality and their commitment to the cultural experience they want to create

The following community members have already volunteered to serve in some capacity (including on the ad hoc committee):

» David Asbell, executive director of the Lobero Theatre

» Todd Capps, musician and executive director of The Common Table Foundation

» Hal Conklin, former mayor and city councilman and founder of Santa Barbara Leadership Team

» Robin Elander, interim executive director of Downtown Santa Barbara

» Steve Epstein, real estate professional, musician and Common Table Foundation board member

» Jamie Faletti, musician, former music store owner and real estate professional

» Jason Frost, professional musician

» Hector Hurtado, musician and stage manager for Old Spanish Days Fiesta and Summer Solstice Celebration

» Moss Jacobs, senior vice president of Goldenvoice Concerts

» Nicholas Jurkowski, executive director of Santa Barbara Revels

» Nir Kabaretti, music and artistic director of the Santa Barbara Symphony

» Maria Long, media representative and music and events fundraising professional

» Kathryn Martin, Next Chapter coach

» Pat McElroy, retired Santa Barbara fire chief

» Erin McKibben, Santa Barbara Revels music director, Music Academy of the West’s Sing! program choral director, and Santa Barbara Youth Opera music director

» Roger Perry, Fourth of July and Fiesta booker and Youth Music Movement leader

» Kostis Protopapas, artistic and general director of Opera Santa Barbara

» Caren Rager, Chrisman executive director and president of The Granada Theatre

» Kai Tepper, Santa Barbara Bowl outreach program manager, community musician and advocate

In addition to the immediate benefits of clear and reasonable public performance policies, this work could form the foundation for additional, post-pandemic arts support that would further enhance the appeal of Santa Barbara as a destination.

We respectfully urge the various government officials to act on this before we start seeing our local artists and performers join the ranks of the homeless. This is becoming dire!

Steve Epstein leads The Epstein Partners at Keller Williams Realty Montecito/Santa Barbara, is a local musician, and a board member of The Common Table Foundation, Transition House, the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum and the Santa Barbara South Coast Chamber of Commerce. He also was appointed by the Santa Barbara City Council to the Measure C Oversight Committee. The opinions expressed are his own.