SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The popular Santa Barbara promenade on State Street will be discussed by the City Council Tuesday as it looks at the long-range plan for the centerpiece of the downtown corridor.
The review is part of the COVID-19 Economic Recovery.
The city says the current on-going public health orders prohibit many businesses from operating indoors, and the outside seating has proven to be vital. With that, the recommendation is to extend the emergency ordinance until September 8, 2021.
The action will also give the City staff time to meet with city tenants who have had trouble with their lease payments during the pandemic. Some considerations on adjusting the lease terms will also be discussed.
There are also tax obligations that will be protected on both ends with this order. The city says currently there are 16, 000 registered businesses in Santa Barbara with a history of low deliquency rates. However with COVID about 270 have payment issues now.
When it comes to economic survival, parklets and patios that were not part of the outside sales footprint a year ago, have been a life saver for many businesses. Some actually have more space outside than they ever did inside. They are hoping to include that in their future business plans if the promenade becomes permanent.
Some are concerned it would then have an added cost from the city since a city street is involved, and the designs would have to be reviewed by the Historic Landmarks Commission.
General Manager of the Chase Restaurant Warren Butler says, the extension until September will be helpful. "It gives time to transition into the future. It's a no brainer.
Nearby a resident strolling with family and friends said she likes the vibe. "
Luminesse Lee said, "it's a good way to bring community together, we need this."
There's still a lot to sort out when you have pedestrians, bicyclists skateboarders, tables, chairs, musicians and at times, an emergency vehicle all sharing the same space.
When it's "going off" however, businesses say it's far and away better than the sluggish pre-COVID months. Some restaurants have more seating outside than they ever did inside.
"It's fantastic on the weekends. When you see kids and families and old people and young people just utilizing that space ," said Butler. He stressed like many people, "it has to be organized."
Managing bike riders will be tricky. The city wants bikes to be part of the flow pattern.
"If it was designated right up the middle, I think that would work perfect. Right now I think it is chaotic," said Roy Lee who used to live in Santa Barbara and is visiting from Ventura County.
There is a free spirited feel to the areas where people can travel, shop, eat and explore now more than prior to the pandemic.
"Before the pedestrians were just confined to the sidewalks. Now they have all that additional space too. There's room for everyone," said resident Jennifer MacLeod.
Luminesse Lee said getting to see friends and having a friendly feel for others in the promenade works for her. "We're getting to share the walkway and I think it's kind of sweet. We're slowly acknowledging each other."
Butler says the area should eventually have less street dining and more sidewalk tables to keep the food and restaurants near each other, and the pedestrians in the next area followed by the bikes in the middle.
The city has multiple long range ideas for the area coming in from residents and architects. Some are posted in the windows of a vacant clothing store on State and Canon Perdido. It includes more housing and European-style designs for mixed use in the area.
The promenade has been an attractive redo for the city but it changes the dynamics of downtown faster than planners had expected. It is also part of a big picture discussion that includes the State Street underpass and De la Guerra Plaza improvements.
Ahead on the calendar, several major downtown street events usually take place, although it's less likely during the pandemic. They include the Summer Solstice and Old Spanish Days Parade. It's unclear if those events would be modified because of the promenade, rerouted or even be canceled this year in the parade form if health rules still ban large crowd gathering.