SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The State Street promenade opened on the Friday before Memorial Day last year as a way to reinvigorate the downtown corridor during the pandemic's economic crisis.
Now a year later, discussions are about to ramp up regarding its future. The promenade's current layout is officially set to remain in place until at least March 2022.
Local leaders are forming a 15-person committee-- along with two "alternates"-- to hear public input, discuss what changes need to be made, before then hiring a "master planner" to prepare the promenade for a post-pandemic world.
"Now we need to start planning for the future," city council member Kristen Sneddon said Friday. "We need to have a long-range view of not just in catastrophe how do we manage, but how do we envision it for the really long-term. And we want it to be successful and be a place that locals come, and a place that people from out of town want to come, and it's exciting, but it also has to work for the long-term for all of us who live here."
Sneddon says the State Street Master Planning Committee will attempt to include people with a broad range of experiences in the city. It will include three yet-to-be-decided city council members, a member of the Historic Landmarks Commission, someone from the Planning Commission and members of the community at-large.
"When we reach consensus with that group of people, we know we're on the right track," Sneddon said.
Committee member interviews and appointments will take place in June.
Sneddon says before the committee's long-term plan is formally decided, the next year or so will be an "interim year," where major changes are unlikely but new rules could emerge. She alluded to new standards for new parklets likely to come out.
She says by next March, local leaders are hoping for more clarity and more concrete changes. She speculated that rules regarding outdoor space use in front of businesses could be modified and the promenade's eight-block stretch of the promenade could eventually be shortened.
While the spacing may change, business owners are hoping the spirit does not.
“I think we’ve already seen how vastly popular al fresco dining and drinking is,” said Bob Stout, owner of the Wildcat Lounge and former board president of the Downtown Santa Barbara Organization. “It’s very ‘Mediterranean village’… 90 percent of the people I talk to love it.
“I hope the city realizes that is a huge draw for Santa Barbara. And I hope there’s no going back. They may regulate it a little bit, but I hope not too much, because not only has it saved businesses over the past year—it really has—but it’s really what people want in the future. So I hope they don’t kill that.”
The new committee will also have to consider other issues: people experiencing homelessness using the promenade's open spaces, lingering empty storefronts and support for adding more housing downtown.