The Wrong Solution to the Wrong Problem at the Wrong Time

By Bob Hazard   |   January 31, 2023

In November, Montecito residents watched in dismay as carpenters and electricians dismantled two-thirds of the popular outdoor dining parklets at Lucky’s Steakhouse and one half of the parklets serving Tre Lune Ristorante to restore four new parking spaces on Coast Village Road (CVR). 

Nearby, the city parklet guillotine fell on Jeannine’s Restaurant & Bakery, which was forced to dismantle half of its profitable parklets to gain two new parking spaces. The Montecito Inn’s Coast & Olive Restaurant lost a third of its parklet dining space to create one new parking space. The parklet removal has added seven new parking spaces. Since the decision to punish the parklets, four new public parking spaces have become available from the closure of Mesa Burger and the removal of its parklet. 

There are currently 138 angled parking spaces on CVR plus another 53 curbside parking spaces. Adding 139 mostly angled parking spaces on Coast Village Circle offers a grand total of 330 parking spaces, plus private parking lots owned by individual businesses. Presently, two-space parklets remain at the Folded Hills Tasting Room and Bree’osh on the northside of CVR and at Coast & Olive, Lucky’s, Jeannine’s, Renaud’s and Tre Lune on the southside, occupying another 14 potential parking spaces not counted in the 330.

Everyone agrees that Coast Village Road needs additional parking. However, pitting retail shops against restaurants to gain seven CVR spaces was the wrong solution to the wrong problem at the wrong time. 

Damage to Coast Village Road Restaurants

Gene Montesano estimates he will lose several million dollars in annual food and beverage sales between Lucky’s and Tre Lune as a result of the takedown. Alison Hardey, owner of Jeannine’s, can expect to lose another million and Jim and Jason Copus could lose nearly the same at Coast & Olive. That represents an anticipated loss of around five million dollars in CVR food and beverage sales. Additional casualties include laid-off culinary workers, plus CVR retailers who will lose the foot traffic generated from diners who would be sitting at the lost restaurant seats who could be converted to potential retail shoppers. 

When COVID-19 threatened to destroy CVR dining, innovative restaurateurs discovered their diners preferred outdoor dining in a European style of comfort and convenience. Parklets allowed for social distancing and more intimate conversations. Their customers’ “reward” has been to have the City of Santa Barbara stifle this successful strategy by limiting the outdoor dining options that Montecito customers clearly prefer.

Restaurants today are desperately searching for willing workers and remedies to offset mandated wage inflation and runaway food costs. Solicitation of new dining clients has become a necessity, not a luxury. A CVR address is no ticket for automatic restaurant success. Just ask the former owners of Cava, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf, Giovanni’s Pizzeria, Mesa Burger, Khao Kaeng Noodle Bar, Peabody’s, Mollie’s, and Little Alex’s, the most recent casualties.

The Carpinteria and Ventura Parklet Decision

The Carpinteria City Council has taken the exact opposite position on parklets than the City of Santa Barbara. In May 2020, the Carp City Council voted to allow Carp businesses to operate in outdoor spaces in the city’s right-of-way and privately-owned outdoor spaces. In November 2022, the Carp City Council voted again to extend its original parklet termination date of December 31 to at least June 2023. 

Carpinteria reasoned, “Without the continuation of the parklets, there is an increased risk of a substantial negative impact to local businesses by delaying a local economic recovery and imperiling the lives or property of inhabitants of the city. The existing parklet program allows businesses limited expansion of commercial operations into public rights of way, such as sidewalks and parking spaces. Extending the temporary program gives the city more time to finalize the long-term parklet permitting program plan.” The Ventura City Council also voted to keep its downtown Main Street parklets open without change until December 2024. 

The Role of the City of Santa Barbara on CVR

The decision to take down the CVR parklets was made administratively by the Santa Barbara City Administrator, Rebecca Bjork, at the bequest of 25 CVR retail merchants, followed by two perfunctory meetings at the Montecito Inn hosted by Downtown Team Manager Brian Bosse. Montecito residents and their restaurants on CVR were promised the use of outdoor dining parklets until the end of 2023. Instead, they were unceremoniously notified by administrative letter to remove parklets that exceeded two parking spaces by October 31, 2022, or face City fines and penalties.

There was no vote taken by Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse nor his City Council. Once again, people who don’t live in Montecito made an important decision for local business owners without measuring the economic impact of that decision nor measuring the effect on the character of the local Montecito community. 

How Much Has the City of Santa Barbara Spent or Invested in Coast Village Road?

Back in the 1960s, a short-sighted decision made by the newly-formed Montecito Sanitary District to delay the installation of sewers along Coast Village Road, motivated local CVR merchants, sick of the whiff of overflowing septic tanks, to agree to annexation by the City of Santa Barbara in return for sewers. Ouch!

Recent attempts to measure the City’s performance in governing CVR have been met with stonewalling. How much revenue has the City collected each year during the last 10 years from CVR owners and tenants in property taxes, sales taxes, hotel occupancy taxes, plus the 40 miscellaneous City permit and other fees? How much has the City of Santa Barbara spent per year on CVR improvements, such as providing additional parking, beautifying the medians, improving the CVR streetscape, and helping CVR merchants prosper? Since its takeover, has the City of Santa Barbara treated CVR as a “cash cow” to fund other
City improvements? 

The 2008 City Blunder at the Hot Springs/Cabrillo Blvd Interchange

In 2008, the City of Santa Barbara made a tragic decision for CVR when then-Mayor Helene Schneider and her transportation director Rob Dayton, opted to close the southbound on-ramp to the 101 at the Hot Springs/Cabrillo interchange. Caltrans traffic counts showed 3,200 vehicles per day in 2005 used the now-closed southbound Cabrillo/Hot Springs 101 on-ramp, rising to 4,450 vehicles per day by 2008. That equates to a possible 1.62 million cars and trucks per year, needlessly diverted to CVR to enter the 101 at Olive Mill.
Double Ouch! 

In 2008, the character of CVR changed dramatically with the infusion of what is now probably closer to two million cars and trucks per year re-rerouted through Coast Village Road to enter the 101 south. This will only be corrected when the final phase of the widening of the 101 is completed in four to five years, after a new southbound entrance to the 101 is finally re-opened at the Hot Springs/Cabrillo interchange. 

Since 2008, CVR businesses have discovered that gridlock and congestion, not a lack of parking, punished CVR retailers. Local shoppers in droves avoided Coast Village Road from 3-6 pm, seven days a week, due to 101 traffic congestion. Rob Dayton’s promise that Santa Barbara beach traffic could be diverted by signage to enter the southbound 101 at the Milpas interchange proved to be a fantasy.

Closure of the Four Seasons Santa Barbara Biltmore

In March 2020, the Four Seasons Santa Barbara Biltmore Resort closed its 5-star hotel to guests and patrons plunged to zero. Repeated promises of re-opening the Biltmore have been routinely broken. Loss of business from the Biltmore closure has been more significant than the loss of seven parking spaces.

Construction of the CVR-Olive Mill Roundabout 

In 2018, the City of Santa Barbara decided that Montecito needed a new single-lane roundabout at CVR and Olive Mill to speed ten lanes of current in and out traffic from a five-way intersection at the “Gateway to Montecito.” Roundabout construction starts this month and could take 12 to 18 months to complete. This is the busiest intersection in Montecito, the major hub for all traffic flow in
our community. 

What will be the impact of the closure of the 101 northbound off-ramp and the southbound on-ramp at Olive Mill to retail and restaurant sales on CVR? When the southbound exit and entrance to the 101 were closed at Santa Claus Lane for 101 widening, retailers and restaurants on Santa Claus Lane reported a 50% reduction in business. Will the closures of the Olive Mill entrance and exit ramps on the 101 have the same impact on CVR business owners, resulting in fewer customers for retailers and restaurants and lots of extra empty parking spaces?

Another unknown concerns the planned narrowing of CVR in front of the Montecito Inn where two lanes now enable drivers in the right lane to turn south on Olive Mill, or to enter the southbound 101, while CVR drivers currently in the left lane can turn north to Olive Mill or E. Jameson. With only one lane entering the new roundabout from CVR, is it reasonable to expect longer lines of vehicles backed up on CVR?

Restaurants and retailers on CVR may well find themselves with ample parking, but a shortage of customers during the entire five-year construction period of two roundabouts followed by the final widening of the 101. With the recent evacuation of Montecito, how many more can be expected over the next five years while the two roundabouts are being built and the 101 is being widened?  


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