ANALYSIS: What is Really Happening on State Street?

State Street in better days.

State Street probably will look pretty much the same for the next two or three years, which the exception of some $250,00 in superficial improvements. 

The Santa Barbara City Council on Oct. 13 threw more money at the situation, as it sometimes does, to bring some more ambiance to the frequently chaotic promenade. The money will pay for for potted plants and strings of overhead lights. 

To fund the improvements, the council approved use of money from a quarter-cent sales tax the voters approved for road and transportation projects. 

The council also approved a plan to draw green bicycle paths to slow down non-vehicular riders who sometime exceed the 5-mph speed limit and others who pop wheelies and perform other tricks on the street and sidewalks. 

City transportation officials expressed the belief that cyclists will ride in green lanes drawn on the street. Really? Officials said riding bicycles through the Tuesday farmers market is not allowed, yet they persist. 

With lack of some type of enforcement, few of the mostly younger riders – wearing no helmets nor masks as required – will respect the city’s best intentions. 

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. 

State Street also has attracted scores of skateboarders, scooter riders, unicyclists and even motorized bikes who pose similar problems. 

Meanwhile last month, the city planning commission threw out a plan to make a deal with the owners of Paseo Nuevo outdoor mall. 

Commissioners could not see the benefit of the Paseo Nuevo Owners LLC proposed option to extend the city’s lease through 2093 and continue without paying actual rent.  

As thousands of malls across the country close down, Paseo Nuevo owners offered to pay $20 million for more improvements after earlier paying another $20 million for a much-needed renovation that was completed this summer. 

The mall was opened in the heart of downtown in 1990 – with a city lease through 2065 – as a redevelopment agency joint project between the city and Paseo Nuevo owners. Its two anchor retailers, Macy’s and Nordstrom are shuttered. The mall does not own those buildings. 

And, as time marches on, the city’s State Street czar, Economic Development Manager Jason Harris, told the council earlier this month that he’s coming up with a plan to fix things. 

Harris started his Santa Barbara job just as the pandemic shutdown occurred in March. He said this month he plans to divulge his three-year plan later. He didn’t say exactly when. 

He also said he wants to reverse the city’s reputation of not being “business-friendly,” which has been a problem for a number of years. That has a lot to do with cutting all the red tape that new businesses must endure just to open their enterprises.

Posted Oct. 16, 2020. 

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