$85,000 State Street Report to be Aired July 25

An $85,000 State Street report prepared by a Manhattan Beach consultant, which restates many obvious problems, but also a few newer ideas, is scheduled to be discussed at a 4 p.m. July 25 special Santa Barbara City Council meeting at City Hall, 735 Anacapa St. 

The Kosmont Companies report suggests the city: “Facilitate infill housing or live/work space in back of vacant buildings along State Street;” and “Incentivize a blend of residential, office, and hotel reuse of vacant commercial buildings,” ideas seriously discussed earlier this month at a public workshop on the region’s most visible commercial corridor. 

The report also suggests: “Facilitate development of new workforce housing, including micro units, between Chapala Street and Anacapa Street and utilize surplus parking spaces in City parking structures to meet onsite requirement and reduce development costs,” another idea brought up at a recent public workshop. 

It also says the city should: “Encourage UCSB to open a satellite campus downtown.” The report also says the downtown shuttle should be free of charge, as it was two decades ago, and a two-to-three block pedestrian mall should be considered.  

The Kosmont consultants took a few swipes at the city for its permitting process, which slows many new businesses from opening and drives some away. They said, “City does not have a business-friendly reputation,” and “City staff not enthusiastic to expedite development,” something South Coast business leaders have said for many years.

“Fundamentally review/revamp the zoning and permitting process to be more flexible to accommodate market and changing retailer and customer dynamics,” the report suggests, since the city’s “Accelerate Permit Program is perceived by stakeholders as not effective.” 

The report does state a number of obvious problems such as persistent vagrancy and the needs for more police on State Street and increased workforce housing in the city. 

Some of the report’s “key findings” also may have been rather obvious, such as: 

“Millennials (ages 18-34) are the largest demographic group in Santa Barbara (28 percent) and future retail and housing uses need to take this into consideration; 

In the last five years, countywide retail sales have increased modestly, while State Street retailers have seen a 15 percent annual sales decline; 

Asking commercial lease rates on State Street are higher than neighboring markets, but have started declining; 

Of a total of 1.5 million (square feet) in retail space downtown, approximately one-third or 400,000-500,000 SF is not supportable in the long term unless there are more customers, residents, and office workers downtown.” 

Interestingly enough, the executive summery of the report does mention cannabis shops, like the one on the 400 block of State Street, but does say it “needs more specialty shops that provide unique goods and experience – authenticity and strong customer service.” The report also mentions what everyone on State Street has known for years: The face of retail is changing.

The consultants praised co-working spaces, naming Impact Hub with its main location at 1117 State St., and The Sandbox, which is several blocks from downtown at 414 Olive St.

The report also says the city should hire at least two more employees: an economic development assistant manager an ombudsman.

In January, the council voted unanimously to pay $85,000 to a consultant for a study and report on how to fix State Street’s many problems, even though several other similar studies did the same thing since the recession.

While the corridor has been churning for decades with many mom-and-pop business coming and going, the recession saw the storefront vacancy rate hit an all-time high with some 40 empty spots.

On Thursday ,the council also will get a brief update from city staff and “provide direction on further actions as needed.”  

The report’s four-page executive summary is available online at https://records.santabarbaraca.gov/OnBaseAgendaOnline/Documents/ViewDocument/Council%20Agenda%20Report%20-%20PRESENTATION%20OF%20KOSMONT%20REPORT%20AND%20DOWNTOWN%20RECOMMENDATI.pdf?meetingId=485&documentType=Agenda&itemId=15002&publishId=9871&isSection=false as is the entire document at https://records.santabarbaraca.gov/OnBaseAgendaOnline/Documents/ViewDocument/Attachment%20%20-%20GENERAL.pdf?meetingId=485&documentType=Agenda&itemId=15002&publishId=9872&isSection=false  

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