Report Prompts Four Hours of Talk, No Action, Yet …

After listening for an hour to an $85,000 consultant rehash many old ideas and problems and take no action July 25, Santa Barbara City Council members heard the community development defend his staff after they were accused of driving away downtown business. 

Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon asked community development chief Gorge Buell about the section of the consultant’s report that said his department is “not business friendly.” 

However, he said he would not dispute the report by the Manhattan Beach-based Kosmont Cos., but acknowledged that city permit applicants feel that way. Buell said his department is committed to the city’s “integrity, excellence and efficiency.” 

Buell said staff members are trying harder to return applicants’ phone calls and emails more quickly. He said his department is dealing with its “work-flow revamp.” 

The council commissioned the report in January. Nina Johnson, assistant to the city administrator, agreed with the consultant’s suggestions to hire an economic development chief and send other issues to the planning commission in the fall.  

Johnson said staff would come back to the council in six months with more recommendations. Since the four-hour marathon meeting was a work session, with no action on the agenda, the council could do nothing except tell staff to get to work.  The bulk of the meeting was devoted to comments from the public, which produced a variety of opinions.

Santa Barbara Downtown chief Carrie Kelly and the group’s treasurer Anne Peterson along with Visit Santa Barbara chief Kathy Jenega-Dykes said the time is now to solve many State Street’s problems. They pushed for quicker action, as did members of the public. 

Kelly agreed the city should hire an economic director because many other cities have a similar position. She said the biggest problem for downtown “frustrated” business owners has been homelessness for a long time, as many know, but it persists. She noted a “plethora” of meetings and studies have been done on the issues discussed in the report.

“Santa Barbara is fortunate to have in place private organizations who are willing and able to play crucial roles alongside the city in developing and implementing an economic development plan,” Kelly said. “We need a public-private partnership to support this position and to create a long-term Economic Development Plan for all of Santa Barbara.”

Janega-Dykes said the city is at a “critical juncture” in dealing with downtown’s many problems since these are not new.  

Many speakers backed Kosmont’s suggestion to mix more housing with retail downtown. However, the consultants said landlords aren’t likely to decrease rents.

Many speakers also pushed for more public events downtown. A standing-room-only crowd of some 150 stayed for most of the session, but by the time it dragged into it third hour, many of those who wanted to speak had left.

Posted July 25, 2019.

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