SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara has already seen a revitalized downtown corridor after shutting down much of State Street to vehicle traffic. The area has become busy with pedestrian traffic and people dining outdoors at restaurants.
Even more people are likely to saunter down State Street this holiday weekend, with an influx of visitors expected for the Fourth of July despite local worries about the coronavirus spreading.
“Santa Barbara is a destination spot,” said Victor Garza, the city’s Downtown Plaza & Parking Manager. “[During] Fourth of July is always a very popular place for people to come.”
The city is planning to keep the downtown area safe and prevent overcrowding, as health officials warn against large groups gathering together.
“We just wanna make sure that we get the word out about social distancing, about wearing the face masks,” Garza said. “So that in addition to [visitors] enjoying their stay here, that they do it in a safe way.”
Twelve 'Downtown Ambassadors' will be walking up and down State Street this weekend, answering questions and handing out free masks to those who need one.
“Now that the pandemic has started we’re able to communicate more with public,” said Marina Reyes, a Downtown Ambassador. “And now that they see us, they have more questions to ask.”
City staff will not be forcing people to wear masks, but will be highly encouraging it.
“The masks are there for those that maybe forgot their mask, or maybe it broke on them,” Garza said. “Maybe they need an extra mask. And so we’re there to assist with that.”
The Santa Barbara Police Department will be out encouraging compliance, but does not plan on issuing citations for pedestrians failing to wear masks or practice distancing.
The Police Department says it will only hand out citations in "dangerous" situations, with illegal fireworks used as an example.
Downtown shops--several hurting badly in the midst of the current economic crisis--are hoping visitors bring a solid weekend of business.
“Now that everybody’s really aware of how to maintain distances, maintain a safe environment with their masks and their hand washing and their sanitizers, that we can receive the guests from out of town safely,” said Alan Howard, owner of Antique Alley on State Street. “I think the city’s done a great job on getting everybody up to speed on what needs to be done to keep the public safe.”
Others, however, are less optimistic about how well people will follow the rules this weekend.
“You have to make sure that everybody wears a mask,” said Joe Hernandez, a Santa Barbara resident who says he’ll be staying at home and avoiding busy public areas. “It’s not taking someone’s privilege away or their rights away. It’s just common sense.”
City staff will also distribute masks at two pop-up tent locations along State Street, beginning Saturday.