The Coast Village Road War Just Got Hotter

By Bob Hazard   |   September 13, 2022

Hours after last week’s Montecito Journal went to press, the war between the restaurants and the retailers over the future of Coast Village Road (CVR) got hotter.  Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse expressed his written opinion regarding his long-term commitment to the continuation of parklets on CVR. At the same time, CVR retailer Kevin Frank, allegedly speaking on behalf of a coalition of 25 CVR retailers and seven landlords, shifted away from an earlier compromise position to a strong demand that the city should remove outdoor parklet dining immediately and return 38 parking spaces to CVR. 

Montecito Carries the Weight of a Cork Anchor in Future CVR Planning Decisions

The oddity in this restaurant vs. retailer fight is that the 9,800 CVR customers in Montecito have no decision-making role in the outcome of this parking war, having lost the commercial heartbeat of Montecito to the City of Santa Barbara in the late 1950s because Montecito refused to provide a sewer line for CVR businesses with overflowing septic tanks.

When questioned, the Mayor and City Council will trumpet their commitment to inclusion of all opinions in future planning deliberations for CVR, but when the votes are counted, as one wag put it, “Montecito’s wishes will carry about the same weight as the broth made from the shadow of a starving chicken.”

What Does Randy Rowse, Mayor of Santa Barbara, Have to Say About CVR?

Randy Rowse, speaking on behalf of himself and the City Council, notes, “I do have some perspective on the [CVR] parklet situation. Having owned a restaurant in downtown Santa Barbara for 38 years, I get both sides of the argument. For myself, there shouldn’t be two sides to the argument (retailers vs. restaurants) because at the end of the day, we are all in this together. I will do everything in my power to ensure the maximum vitality and vibrancy in all of our business districts. Yes, we will disagree on the methods, but that’s why you guys pay me the big bucks…”

Rational Randy, with his cool demeanor and reputation for win-win solutions, promises to at least redefine the overall shortage of CVR parking spaces as the issue to be solved, avoiding the creation of a win for retail and a loss for restaurants (or vice versa).

The problem on CVR for a long-term shortage of adequate parking spaces for both restaurants and retailers, should not be pitting one group against the other. Clues as to what the City of Santa Barbara will propose as CVR solutions lie in previous Santa Barbara Council decisions for their own State Street revitalization.   

The Retailers of Coast Village Road

Kevin Frank, owner of K. Frank clothing at 1150 CVR, representing the 25 CVR retailers who sent a letter to the Santa Barbara Mayor and City Council, has retreated from his earlier conciliatory remarks. He now advocates that there are no alternatives to increased parking opportunities on CVR other than demanding that the CVR restaurant parklets be dismantled and permanently disallowed NOW to recover the 38 lost parklet parking spaces.

Frank writes, “Each restaurant [on CVR] that has a parklet was able to operate successfully before the pandemic and the inception of parklets. Their business was not based on the assumption they would receive free public outdoor space in order to increase their profits and sales. Restaurants have added some 353 outdoor dining seats, creating a need for more staff to serve more diners, exacerbating the parking problem even further. A return to the parklet-free CVR is not a negative throwback to the status quo but a return to a vibrant street where equal access and usage of public space was the norm.” 

Popularity of Outdoor Dining and Parklets

Frank’s feelings are not shared by other communities across the country, especially in high-end shopping towns like Aspen, Colorado; Coeur D’Alene, Idaho; Jackson Hole, Wyoming; Scottsdale, Arizona; Naples, Florida; Santa Monica, California; and hundreds more. One of the few silver linings from COVID has been to remind residents and visitors that dining in the open air, all year long with heaters, has become the latest new American pleasure.

This country’s diners have discovered what Europeans have known all the time. Cocktails and food have never tasted quite so good as they do when consumed at a sidewalk table, watching the sky fade and the people passing by. Outdoor dining is a lot more relaxing when you know you can retreat indoors when it’s too cold or too stormy, a rarity in the year-round mild climate of Santa Barbara.

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials, “Parklets are public seating platforms that convert curbside parking spaces into vibrant community spaces.” As cities plan for a successful future, they have a unique opportunity to build upon this progress by making parklets a permanent and prevalent fixture of 21st century lifestyle.

Permanent Parklets Picking Up Speed Across America

Permanent parklets are picking up speed all across America from New York to Vancouver to San Francisco, New Orleans, Los Angeles, Denver, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Small towns like Aspen, Colorado welcome public spaces where residents and visitors sit and gather, to encourage people to slow down, to connect with strangers and to spend more time in their own neighborhoods on foot. Aspen, with mind-numbing traffic congestion, recognizes the positive downstream effects for local businesses, as increased foot traffic has been shown to drive revenue and complement those restaurants and cafes that offer outdoor seating as well as retail shops.

San Francisco in July 2021 unanimously voted to make “Shared Space Programs” (parklets) permanent. Today, only unenlightened legislators fail to see permanent parklets as a positive community asset, especially when combined with innovative, practical ways to design, fund, and build more parking spaces to replace those lost to parklets.

City Parklet Plan for State Street

Years ago, Santa Barbara’s wise city fathers created a number of pay-for-parking garages just off State Street to revitalize its downtown Santa Barbara hub. Still, with an increasing, highly visible homeless population, combined with the ease of online shopping and the demise of Nordstrom, Saks 5th Avenue, Macy’s, two bookstores, and most high-end retail, State Street declined to a far less vibrant, less appealing venue of vacant storefronts, t-shirt and tourist retailers, and teenage music and sports bars. Once the most beautiful and beloved downtown in America, State Street morphed into a seedy shadow of itself.

It wasn’t until the eight-block closure of State Street to all motorized traffic, and the emergence of restaurant parklets, that the Santa Barbara Promenade with its focus on people, began a serious makeover to turn the tide from a tourist embarrassment to a city in renewal.

City of Santa Barbara Votes to Extend Outdoor Dining and Restaurant Parklets

On June 28, 2022, the Santa Barbara City Council narrowly voted 4-3 to pass a motion by Councilmember Kristen Sneddon to continue outdoor parklet dining on the State Street Promenade until a long-term revitalization has been presented and endorsed. A narrow reprieve – but still a win. State Street remains closed to vehicles but open to parklets. Disappointingly, Mayor Rowse voted with the minority.

Santa Barbara created a State Street Advisory Committee to solicit competitive bids to re-envision State Street over the next 30 years. On July 27, 2022, the city authorized a consultant agreement with MIG, Inc. at an initial cost of $709,156 plus expenses. MIG, based in San Francisco but with clients in Sonoma, Berkeley, Pasadena, San Diego, Denver, Portland, San Antonio, and Seattle, calls itself a community of designers, planners, engineers, and storytellers, engaging, involving, and acting with people in creative problem solving.

It is highly likely that whatever MIG decides is best for State Street will be deemed best for CVR, but with a lower level of city financial support. Hopefully, if pushing boundaries and reinventing downtowns means anything to city officials, they will allocate the necessary funding to provide projects that improve people’s lives, and permanent restaurant parklets will be part of that solution.

What Can You Do in Montecito?

Although you may have no official voice in negotiations, if you believe as I do that CVR has been improved by the addition of outdoor dining parklets, drop a quick e-mail to Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse at asking him to (1) Keep the CVR restaurant parklets, and (2) Find the proper pathway to work together to plan, fund, build, and maintain 120 new parking spaces on CVR to replace the 38 lost to COVID.


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