With Statewide Lifting of Stay-at-Home Order, Outdoor Dining Finally Returns to Santa Barbara County
Just a day after California Governor Gavin Newsom announced the end of a months-long, statewide stay-at-home order, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department officially allowed outdoor dining to take effect at exactly 8 am on Tuesday, January 26. According to First District Supervisor Das Williams, he first heard word of the coming news over the weekend, and at first wasn’t sure if the rumors would prove correct.
“I knew about it on Saturday,” Williams told the Montecito Journal. “I don’t always believe these things at first, but I asked our public health staff to be ready for implementation just in case.” According to Williams, both the County Board of Supervisors and County health officials were all in agreement that the County should move to immediately relax restrictions on outdoor dining and a number of other activities that are allowed in so-called “purple tier” areas of the state where COVID-19 cases no longer threaten to overwhelm the local health infrastructure.
“We were all in agreement that we should return to the purple tier,” Williams said. “My personal opinion, which is based on the relative lack of restaurant workers that were testing positive before [Newsom’s] executive order was in place, is that the ban on outdoor dining caused a lot of collateral damage.”
Although Williams said he expects some critics of Newsom to argue that it is too soon to allow outdoor dining to restart, he doesn’t believe the data supports that argument. “I don’t believe that it was necessarily helpful that it stopped in the first place, and so I am relieved that it is back on again now,” he said. “We will get a slew of complaints, but my perspective is we have a lot of people out of work and that causes serious effects as well and that is something that has to be taken into account.”
Kathy Janega-Dykes, president and CEO of Visit Santa Barbara, said the County’s lifting of COVID-19 closures doesn’t just include a return to socially-distanced outdoor dining, but also allows retail stores as well as hair and nail salons to operate indoors at 25 percent occupancy, and also allows wineries, a staple of Santa Barbara’s tourism economy, to once again provide outdoor tastings.
“This is a long awaited day,” Janega-Dykes said. “We are grateful that our public officials have lifted some of the restrictions that have taken such a heavy toll on struggling workers and businesses so our community can start to recover and do what they do best with cover protocols, so they can welcome both residents and visitors. This pandemic has really illuminated just how central tourism is to our economy.”
Tourism and visitor spending typically infuses $2 billion into Santa Barbara’s economy each year and supports more than 13,000 jobs. “This is just the first step and we have a long road ahead,” she said. “The county’s hospitality industry has been devastated and we will need additional progress in months to come: indoor dining, spas, fitness centers, and hotels finally being able to book large events.”
Another piece of good news for Santa Barbara’s tourism economy, said Janega-Dykes, is that the County is also allowing an immediate reopening of leisure travel to local hotels and other lodging businesses. According to California’s Employment Development Department, Santa Barbara County’s lodging sector lost 37 percent of jobs last year, with a total of 2,100 employees laid off jobs in the last year. “Hotel occupancy countywide plummeted to just under thirty percent in December and January,” she said, “and we also saw the temporary closure of about a dozen hotels who had to close doors and furlough staff, so the pain they are experiencing is very real.”
However, Janega-Dykes is optimistic about Santa Barbara’s resiliency as a tourist destination. “With an eye to the future, we do have some big opportunities, because our region is well positioned to attract the pent-up demand for travel,” she argued. “We saw this last summer, when hotels were able to reopen for travel. And Santa Barbara sees a lot of repeat visitors, which is a key target of all our businesses.” She also pointed to the fact that, last week, Santa Barbara Airport announced it is now welcoming more direct flights. “We now have 715 seats on five flights a day coming into our airport,” she noted. “It’s ideal timing, because this is the time many of our visitors plan for their late spring and summer travel seasons.”
Gene Montesano, an outspoken critic of the ban on outdoor dining, who owns Lucky’s Steakhouse and Tre Lune on Montecito’s Coast Village Road, as well as Joe’s Café in Santa Barbara, said he was excited about finally being able to reopen outdoor dining after two long months of take-out only service, not to mention his brand new Lucky’s location in Malibu.
“We are really happy to be open,” Montesano said. “Our customers are happy, too.” Montesano said he only wished he had more advanced notice because of all the work that needs to be done in order to get outdoor service up and running. “We still have to finish work on the decks outside,” he said. “But it’s great, it’s really good; everybody is ready to get back to work. We are ready.”