A $780,000 consultant from Seattle will try to come up with a plan to fix Santa Barbara’s State Street.
The City Council voted unanimously, 7-0, to hire MIG Inc., but it wasn’t without a flurry of spirited comments from Mayor Randy Rowse.
“I am not sure if anyone in this room is particularly satisfied with the state of State Street and the way things look. I’m certainly not,” Rowse said as he took off his glasses. “I think we are not clean, and we’re certainly not compliant with a lot of laws and rules.”
Rowse accused some of the restaurants with outdoor dining of “a colossal lack of cooperation” on making their furniture portable and cleaning underneath the decks.
“We have a storm drain system for a reason,” Rowse said. “And right now, that storm drain isn’t going to work.”
Rowse said this is the third summer that restaurants have been operating with “no plans, no rules, no rent.”
The mayor initially tried to squeeze in a motion stating that he would only support the consultant if there was an interim plan in place. He attempted a motion, but Assistant City Attorney Sarah Knect stopped him, noting that it would be a violation of the Brown Act, the state’s open meetings law, to make a motion not on the agenda.
Rowse withdrew his motion after City Administrator Rebecca Bjork said that city staff would focus on compliance, which includes aesthetic standards for new construction, size, rent, portability, cleaning, lighting and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and return to the council with a report.
Rowse said the city has “fallen down” on management of State Street.
“I think we have to move forward and I think we have to do our job, and our job is to provide for the health and human safety that is out there,” Rowse said.
The contract calls for the consultant to conduct community outreach; research and analyze current conditions; conduct a circulation study with traffic counts; and analyze pedestrian behavior to encourage walkability downtown, among other responsibilities.
The plan will outline potential funding sources and other potential funding mechanisms. In addition, the consultant will analyze ongoing maintenance needs for downtown amenities, and “provide insight into strategies for effective long-term operational needs with a design that encourages regular events.” State Street and city leaders have faced scrutiny in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic because of the look and design of the promenade.
While some restaurants have benefitted, particularly those on the 500 block of State Street, retailers have suffered. Business owners have created their own outdoor dining spaces, which has resulted in an inconsistent look. Vacant storefronts also are rampant on State Street.
Dave Davis, chair of the State Street Advisory Committee, called MIG Inc. “one of the best in the country, if not the best.” Davis, the former community development director, helped create the Paseo Nuevo mall in his governmental role. He has worked on downtown issues for nearly 50 years.
“I am excited, really excited — and to get this old dog excited, it takes a lot,” Davis said. “I am excited for our community to be involved in setting the course for the next chapter of our downtown, place, history and celebration.”
Councilwoman Meagan Harmon called the vote a historic day.
“We are not only putting together a plan for right now, it certainly is for right now, but it is also for generations to come,” she said. “We have some of the brightest, most engaged minds in the city of Santa Barbara from many different sectors who are going to be working at this full speed ahead.”