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State Street changes in Santa Barbara in place until at least Labor Day, but issues are raised

Outside dining and other business ideas are part of the reinvented downtown being looked at closely in Santa Barbara. (Photo: John Palminteri)
State street restaurant
John Palminteri
Outside dining and other business ideas are part of the reinvented downtown being looked at closely in Santa Barbara. (Photo: John Palminteri)
State Street restaurant
John Palminteri
Outside dining and other business ideas are part of the reinvented downtown being looked at closely in Santa Barbara. (Photo: John Palminteri)
Downtown Santa Barbara spacing
John Palminteri
Outside dining and other business ideas are part of the reinvented downtown being looked at closely in Santa Barbara. (Photo: John Palminteri)
State Street intersection
John Palminteri
Outside dining and other business ideas are part of the reinvented downtown being looked at closely in Santa Barbara. (Photo: John Palminteri)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - In a matter of a couple of days, the heart of downtown Santa Barbara went from a crisis zone to a festival-like scene during an on going pandemic.

Restaurants were told it was fine to serve food and alcohol on the sidewalks, pedestrians could walk in the streets, and cars were relocated.

A special permit is required for this extension.

Ross Levin was with his seven-week old and his wife and said, "for us and baby Rory, it's been fine, we haven't had a problem. I love having everything closed we can enjoy the day and walk and hopefully we can enjoy it forever."

He said the streets with more space were better for him than a street with bigger crowds, more outside drinking and numerous bikes.

All this, however, was done without much or any review or public input and that's  led to emails and calls to City Hall.

One comment from Anna Marie Gott claimed there were no approved alcohol license adjustments to give restaurants permission to serve drinks outside of their buildings. No one on the city staff was able to provide input on that claim.

Pedestrians carrying drinks, including bottles of beer were seen on many blocks.

 At a special zoom meeting even Council members weren't sure what was happening in some cases.

"I had  sort of thought was just going to be for dining and pedestrian motion was going to be in the street so I had a clarifying question about that. I did see some tables in the street as opposed to just on the sidewalk,  it created a little confusion," said Council member Kristin Sneddon.

There were also concerns about walkers getting with the six-foot space limit to diners.

A supporter of those with mobility issues, said he wanted wheelchair spacing access to be reviewed and included in all discussions about design changes for food, retail and pedestrian plans.

Many restaurant businesses took their space and some on their left and right if it was open because a store was closed or if there was a vacancy. That helped with the safety spacing and eased concerns. It also helped bring in more income.

Council member Mike Jordan, "they went wider than their  frontage because they are not  bothering anyone." It was a move he approved of and credited those who were stretching out or working with their neighboring businesses.

But there were problems.

"There's other examples that are horrible. The 11 and 1200 block   you are either walking the gauntlet  or some people have literally  roped off the entire sidewalk." He said a home made sign redirected pedestrians. "That's not going to fly." said Jordan.


"So we are waiting for that moment to see how populated the streets get with activity but if it doesn't show up do we listen to other business owners who have access needs," said Parking and Transportation manager Rob Dayton.  He said there would still be  a  "balancing act" for issues to be worked out.

Dayton also said different blocks have different flexibility.

Some citizens said they did not feel safe at intersections where cross traffic, bikes and pedestrians shared the space. It was more than a coronavirus issue.

There are also reckless "wheelie-popping" bike riders darting in and out of those on foot and going on and off the curbs. An education plan has been discussed for bike rider. The route is a favorite for those on two wheels.


 One former  planner living here now says  says this test is a unique  workable plan.    "We have got a ton to base your comments on. From retailers from restaurants  from the public,  it is the perfect trial to find a  new answer to State Street," said Realtor Geoff Rue.

Another issue involving outside music was raised because it was not written into the emergency ordinance.  

Over the weekend there were many musicians playing solo and up to six-member bands with amplified music.

In the coming weeks, there will also be discussions about other areas of the city where parking spaces and public walkways may be converted into dining spots.    Already that has happened on Coast Village Road.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3. To learn more about John, click here.

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