The Future of Coast Village Road, Part 2
The truly “endangered species” in America is neither the salt marsh harvest mouse nor the Channel Island fox. Rather, it is the ominous disappearance of small, locally owned businesses – particularly in retail — and the erosion of their positive impact on the character of local communities.
The Retail Meltdown
In the last few years, we have witnessed an astonishing departure of iconic brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Abercrombie & Fitch, Macy’s, Barnes & Noble, and Borders, among others. Sears’s 50-year lease is up in 2019, I believe, and the likelihood they’ll be around much longer is small. Reasons vary for business failures, but most blame competition from online shopping, indifference by Santa Barbara City officials to business concerns, the increasing presence of a troublesome transient population, and the time and money it takes to get through the City’s planning and zoning process.
Coast Village Road is Different
Coast Village Road (CVR) and Coast Village Circle (CVC) have not been immune to this retail rollover. Gone are A.H. Gaspar Jewelry, Sullivan-Goss Art Gallery, Christine Shell Antiques, Carroll & Co., and many others. People who’ve been here longer fondly remember Tutti’s (now Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf), Xanadu Bakery (yet to be replaced), and Peabody’s (now Oliver’s). Sometimes, it is simply better opportunity elsewhere: Elite Performance & Rehab Center relocated to the Funk Zone, and Montecito Pet Shop relocated to the Mesa. The 30-year run for Montecito Cafe ended and will soon be replaced by Scratch; Turk Hessellund Nursery is now The Honor Bar. Going back even further, gas stations, motels, and burger joints once plied their trades along this strip. Retail has always adapted to changing conditions and will likely continue to do so.
The good news is that recent business closures have been offset by a steady stream of high-quality replacements, particularly along Coast Village Road. Although problems with Highway 101 traffic have negatively affected businesses along this strip, three luxury resorts — the Four Seasons Biltmore, the San Ysidro Ranch, and the soon-to-open Rosewood Miramar – continue to provide a reliable stream of customers seeking high-end shopping, fine food, and personal services.
Traffic Gridlock Making Matters Worse
Behavioral changes in shopping patterns can be overcome. It is man-made changes that frustrate shop owners and their clients. The poorly planned closure of the southbound on-ramp to 101 at the Cabrillo Boulevard/Hot Springs interchange turned a bucolic, gentrified Coast Village Road into a nightmarish public parking lot.
Thousands of cars, campers, and trucks using WAZE or other GPS apps exit 101 to creep up CVR to the Olive Mill on-ramp, especially during commute hours. The City’s contention that East Beach traffic could be re-routed to the Milpas on-ramp proved to be an egregious misjudgment. The daily horror story for local residents is to stay away from CVR between 3 and 6 pm, all seven days of the week.
Will CVR Traffic Diminish or Get Worse?
For at least the next 10 years, traffic volumes on CVR will grow steadily worse as CVR and CVC continue to fulfill their current role as the third lane of the 101. The last remaining two-lane choke point on 101 will be the stretch from Sheffield Drive to Cabrillo/Hot Springs, at Montecito’s front door. Until the entire widening is completed, now slated for 2027 or 2032, it is difficult to envision CVR returning to its traditional laid-back, semi-rural style. Montecito residents are hesitant to shop in the area because of the twin hassles of traffic congestion and inadequate parking.
City Taxes Versus City Services
Property taxes, paid by landlords but included in rental rates, amount to an annual charge of 1% of assessed property value. Of the amount collected by the County, 9% goes to the City. TOT taxes of 12% of room rentals at the Montecito Inn and Coast Village Inn bring in more City revenue. Business licenses, permits, and parking ticket fees add to the City coffers.
CVR is a cash cow for the City of Santa Barbara. The City’s reinvestment in CVR is minimal. In addition to a few pothole repairs, the City provides an occasional rake of the dirt on roadside CVR medians, but not much else. With fewer than 100 registered voters living on the street, CVR has no sway at the ballot box in a City of 90,000 residents.
The Coast Village Association
Standing alongside the merchants of CVR and working with the City of Santa Barbara is the newly constituted Coast Village Association (CVA), led by president Robert T. (Bob) Ludwick, the man who formerly led a successful board of eastside business owners and residents whoencouraged the City of Santa Barbara to address the blight and enhance public safety on Milpas Street. Other CVA officers include vice president Trey Pinner, business partner of CVR landlord Morrie Jurkowitz; and secretary/treasurer Thorn Robertson, financial services advisor. Sharon Byrne serves as a part-time executive director of CVA.
CVA has a nine-member board and four standing committees: Traffic and Safety; Beautification; Events; and Marketing, and Public Relations. The mission of the association is to advocate for and support the merchants and businesses of CVR and CVC while protecting the quality of life for nearby residents and visitors. The CVA is working closely with the City and County officials to create a business environment that protects the charm of the area, honors its history, and invests in its future.
Traffic and Safety Issues
CVA is dialoguing with the City, County supervisors, Caltrans, and SBCAG to reopen the southbound on-ramp to 101 at Cabrillo Blvd/Hot Springs now, in an effort to lighten the traffic load on CVR and CVC. All four government agencies have rejected moving up the timing of this project, arguing that funding for the widening of the 101 from Carpinteria to Sheffield is available because that project is “shovel-ready,” while widening within the Montecito Gap is still mired in an environmental lawsuit and the engineering of parallel projects.
The CVR/Olive Mill Roundabout
CVA leadership is currently in support of an Olive Mill roundabout, if it results in faster and safer traffic flow. The 2016 Kittelson & Associates intersection evaluation recommends that the five-way roundabout be constructed prior to the widening of the 101. The roundabout decision will be made by the City and County of Santa Barbara, with Montecito in a weak advisory role.
Construction of that roundabout will present at least a year-long traffic delay at one of the busiest intersections in the Montecito area. There is no certainty that local traffic volumes at the five-way intersection will not exceed the future capacity of the roundabout when it is completed, but failure to address the problem is not a sensible option.
Beautification of CVR and CVC
CVR is still Montecito’s main street, even though it has been incorporated into the City of Santa Barbara, but it is difficult to create charm in the middle of overwhelming traffic congestion and noise. Still, the raw potential is there to make CVR one of the “50 Best Shopping Streetscapes in America,” joining such luminary sites as Nantucket, Massachusetts; Newport, Rhode Island; Woodstock, Vermont; Carmel, California; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.
CVA could emulate the City of Santa Barbara and initiate a competition for innovation. Teams of talented local architectural design and landscaping firms could each choose sections of CVR, and, using best practices from other high-profile shopping areas, develop streetscape plans that combine hanging flower baskets, strategic shade trees, lush median landscaping, flower planters, charming walkways and crossings, subtle signage, innovative lighting, interesting sculptures, unique seating areas and decorative awnings on a par with world-class streetscapes such as Monte Carlo, St. Moritz, or Nice — beautiful, romantic, charming, and safe.