Op-Ed: Restore El Pueblo Viejo

By Bonnie Donovan

The below is an open letter to the City of Santa Barbara mayor and council that has been signed by over 150 local residents and is submitted to edhat for publication.

Mr. Mayor & City Council Members:

We believe that it is essential that we immediately restore El Pueblo Viejo (State Street) by reinstaNng vehicular flow to revive business and to use our time, talents, and money for more pressing issues!

This letter is a call to action- for division to cease, cooperation to commence, and for the vision that our city’s forebearers charted prior to the June 19, 1925 earthquake (and formalized shortly thereafter) be respected and balanced with the present needs of all of our community members. Any proposed changes need to be vetted in a non-biased, non-politicized manner with reasonable timelines.

As residents and taxpayers, we rely upon you, our leaders and city staff to make considered and objective decisions. Ideologies and subjective opinions are irrelevant and have no place in government. It is essential that we take care of today’s needs before skipping to other possibilities of what our town “should” or “might” be down the line. Let’s get back to the baseline first. Keep things simple, address our basic needs now and then work through the Master Plan to address possible future improvements. Protect the use of our Public Right-of-Way for all of our citizens and visitors.

  • Increase support of our local law enforcement to protect citizens, visitors, and property.
  • Ensure a safe and clean downtown, address and eliminate open drug use, hostile transients, and open toileting, etc.
  • Recognize that our downtown corridor and El Pueblo Viejo along State Street is one of our greatest city assets and attractions. Adhere to Historic Landmarks Commission regarding elements in El Pueblo Viejo district, as required and outlined in our City Charter Section 817, subsection (c) “The Historic Landmarks Commission shall have the power and duty to: Review and approve, disapprove, or approve with conditions, plans for exterior alteration, demolition, relocation, moving, or construction of or on: (1) any structures or real property within El Pueblo Viejo Landmark District, (2) any structures or real property within any designated Landmark District, (3) any additional property authorized by action of the City Council; (4) a designated Landmark.”
  • Recognize all members of our community – young and old- ARE the community and have value.
  • Understand what equal access to the Public Right-of-Way means and that it is required by law. Ensure that access is provided for those who live with challenges. Families with children and strollers need access too!
  • Work for equal and proportionate distribution of city resources to all businesses.
  • Remove outdoor dining in the street – move outdoor dining back to sidewalks where it has successfully operated for years. We all agree and want outdoor dining!
  • Encourage shop owners that sell unique and bespoke wares. Shopping is one of the most popular activities when one is on vacation. Tourists want to shop and find something uniquely Santa Barbara to purchase.
  • Open up State Street to cars and bicycles and reinstate the trolley/shuttle – all sharing the two traffic lanes and with the pedestrians on the beautiful brick sidewalks. Keep the movement slow and relaxing.
  • Parades belong on State Street within El Pueblo Viejo. Temporarily close State Street (or portions thereof) for parades, weekly farmers market, etc. as the city has done historically.
  • Visit other communities– San Luis Obispo, Carmel, Solvang, Coast Village Road, Carpinteria’s Linden Avenue. All have returned to pre-Covid conditions with vehicles and pedestrians in their downtowns. And all are thriving.
  • Work to build housing with developers to achieve balance and diversity in our housing and built environment.

We encourage our community to embrace inclusivity and to welcome newcomers to our beautiful town and the enthusiasm that they bring. We encourage everyone that holds our city dear to participate in activities that bring a deeper understanding of Santa Barbara’s culture, history, buildings and natural environment.

We thank you for working on our behalf. We support our democratic process and count on you to support our needs. We will continue to be available, engaged and attentive.

Op-Ed’s are written by community members, not representatives of edhat. The views and opinions expressed in Op-Ed articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of edhat

[Do you have an opinion on something local? Share it with us at info@edhat.com.]


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  1. This letter lists a host of issues that are separate from having cars on State Street and offers zero options to solve these issues. Not only do they want dining back on sidewalks and cars on state, but they want to solve the housing, homeless, and retail crisis. Three things our nation has not been able to solve in the past decade, but you expect a city council of a small town to do easily do this? Ok.

    • Every single one of these op-eds for opening State St obfuscates the goal (allowing cars to drive down these measly, what, 10 blocks??) with 99 other issues that are not even loosely related. It’s exhausting!
      I’ve said it before, anyone who wants to open State Street to vehicles is simply selfish and self-serving. A significant proportion of residents do NOT want it opened to cars. For crying out loud, it’s TEN (ish) blocks, people! Go drive on the literal thousands of other city blocks available to you.
      Why are these folks so selfish that they cannot bear to let 1% of City streets continue to be closed? It’s bizarre.
      I do agree that the promenade needs some changes to make it safer esp re:bikes, that is an inarguable point. But opening to cars is not going to fix anything.

    • LOL so we are fools for wanting the road to be a road again and that an 8 block retailess promenade is a bad idea? we are fools for wanting customers walking on the sidewalks where our STORES ARE, and not in the middle of hte street where the businesses and stores ARE NOT? yeah we’re fools…..guess it takes one to know one.

    • Same with me Zero. What supporters and many in city council don’t realize is this only benefits restaurants and bars and other business will not be renewing leases or moving into vacant stores in this condition. They need a plan, an achievable plan they’re actually able to fund, as this period of closure with no long term plan inhibits businesses and real estate owners from investing in State St. Outside of the 500 block, it’s a huge empty waste of space. Only on the busiest of weekends could the sidewalks not handle the seating and pedestrian traffic the street currently sees. The city simply doesn’t have the money, nor the ability, to tackle the design and construction of a project this large. It would unwise to invest so much time and capital, and the significant negative consequences and disruption that come with it, on a concept that has been proven not to work in cities much larger than ours.

    • VOR, it’s been closed for 3 years. Has City Council compared the vacancy rate from pre-pandemic and now? State St was a ghost town of empty storefronts before the pandemic. Anecdotally, I do not think it is any more empty today. You also need to consider the economy, online shopping has again increased greatly due to pandemic habits, and inflation also affects shopping habits.

    • our business has lost at least 25% of our foot traffic. 15% of that are elderly with mobility issues. my hours have been cut as have many other peoples hours. this is our livelihoods were talking about here. this is not a joke or a funny statement. I care for and mentor several t risk teens that really rely on me and my budget. this stupid wanna be promenade is taxing me heavily. i’ve about had enough.

    • I also live and work downtown and ride my bike everywhere, everyday. For me, it was safer riding downtown when there were cars. The stop lights worked and cars stopped at them (for the most part). Pedestrians did not seem to run out in front of me like they do now. The other bike riders seemed to obey the rules of the road more than they do now. Having said that, I am open to a state street without cars . Good ideas have been posted and I am sure there is a workable solution.
      When I travel, I love going to towns that have a vibrant downtown. Recent travels took me to downtowns in Pismo Beach, SLO, Kona, Barcelona and Lisbon. All have great downtowns and I never felt in danger.
      As far as crime on State street, undercover police patrols would help a lot. Too many assaults and harassment. I still have fun on lower State but many of my friends now go party in the funk zone and upper State. The shoppers (I am not one of them) do their shopping outside of Santa Barbara.

  2. This rant feels like something my grandpa would say. Starts out on one topic then goes into a bunch of other topics and things he doesn’t like about the City, all with gentle suggestions to his political affiliation.
    The letter says they want the same vision from 1925. Well… we’re about 100 years later and it’s time to look forward, especially since all polls show MOST residents want to close sections of State Street. It keeps mentioning “non-politicized” but no one is politicizing State Street. The Council is simply listening to the majority of residents. Just because you don’t agree with the decision, doesn’t mean it’s “political.”
    “Recognize all members of our community – young and old- ARE the community and have value.” So this was written by an old person and endorsed by a bunch of other old people who want Santa Barbara to go back to 1925? And since this line item was included I’m assuming old people don’t feel like their opinion matters because they’ll be dead by the time this project is complete? I mean… well… yeah they will be.

  3. I’d like someone to tell me why having cars drive on State Street is so desirable. I can see both sides, but haven’t heard a great explanation of why cruising down State is so valuable. Before the closure, you couldn’t park there, and could only drop off passengers in a few spots. Is there a value for pedestrians to watch cars pass by? What do the drivers get out of it? Also, I’d love to see more shops with unique and bespoke wares. But they can’t afford the rents. Please explain the mechanism by which the city council can make the rents affordable.
    I’m all in favor of bringing back the shuttles and parades.

    • AHCHOOO, I thought about your question and I offer that when you have “motion” generated by moving objects, then interest levels may increase. When cars, people, balloons, puppies, or video screens are within view, it adds entertainment and interest levels. Add trollies, parades, sword swallowers, and anything you can dream up, and interest levels and “entertainment” goes up, making a more interesting street scene.
      I can’t help you with the rent problem.

    • AHCHOOO – great point, I’d like the same. Cars haven’t been allowed to park on State in decades, so how would allowing them to drive past stores bring in more customers? The parking is still there. Allowing ped only gives people more time to slowly walk past stores to decide if they want to go it. Driving doesn’t afford that perusing ability. But hey, I’m no traffic/marketing expert so I just don’t get it.

    • do you work retail? i do.
      sidewalks are where the businesses are, not on the street.
      you want to tell me, honestly, that you have no memory of cars lined up and down State on aany given day/night?
      Yes cars driving by do bring in more customers. How the heck can they see where we are if they are on Chapala driving?

    • ZERO – I’ve been here since 76 and frequented the bars down there for the better part of the 90s, 2000s and still go down to see friends’ bands play pretty often. I’ve never heard anyone complain about having to walk to the end of the block to get to their Uber. Also never heard of anyone saying, “No, let’s not go downtown to the bars because I can’t get picked up or dropped off right in front of the particular bar I want to go to.”
      I just can’t believe that “young people” are upset that the Ubers don’t pick them up at the door of a bar/club. Now, sure, it might be an inconvenience (half a block), but it’s not causing the retail wasteland that we’ve seen for decades, nor is it a strong enough reason to open lower State to traffic again.
      Sorry man, I just don’t see it.

  4. People are unlikely to shop at these mythical new shops with “unique and bespoke wares” if they don’t know where they are. With State Street closed to cars, one can’t drive along to find them, but must walk the entire 9 blocks of State Street and back again to a parking lot. Many of us long-time residents are no longer willing or able to make such a trek, so we no longer go downtown at all. Architect Cass Ensberg’s beautiful and innovative design allows access for pedestrians, cars, bikes and sidewalk dining, and makes storefronts visible. It is the perfect solution to allow access and enjoyment by all, and I don’t understand why it isn’t being implemented right away.

    • I’m getting older, too, and understand not wanting to walk 9 blocks. But we have long had to park in a lot or side street. I suppose it’s true, we used to drive down State and then, upon seeing the store or restaurant we wanted, turn off to find parking. But it shouldn’t be that hard to look it up first, then park and walk as usual. For me the question is: what beneficial use is being made of the roadway? If it’s just a space for fast-moving bikes, I’m not sure that’s an improvement. But I do like lots of outdoor dining. And I want the trollies/shuttles, and parades.

    • Artemisia, architect Ensberg designs are not being seen, let alone implemented because the majority of the council, led by Sneddon, want it their way, no cars, except in front of the Granada Theater (but not in front of movie theaters for the hoi polloi.)
      Restaurants prevail; retail does not. I agree with you, if you can’t see a shop you’re not likely to make hike to find it. Councilmember A. Gutierrez spoke about how active is Milpas — I thought that must be a joke: except for TJs and Sprouts, it’s tiny, limited interest shops, liquor stores, and major retailers, such as McDonalds. If Milpas is her idea of a model for State Street, uh, hahaha!
      Where are Ensberg designs seeable, btw?

    • “Gutierrez spoke about how active is Milpas — I thought that must be a joke: except for TJs and Sprouts, it’s tiny, limited interest shops, liquor stores, and major retailers, such as McDonalds” – No one else is laughing, especially not the thriving community in that area that utilizes the “limited interest shops” daily, which include family restaurants, shops, local businesses, etc. For locals from that area (not transplants), Milpas is very active and successful, again…… for locals. If State was full of family run restaurants, shops and other local businesses, I think it would be what everyone else here is wanting.

  5. How is this different from shopping malls? Shoppers aren’t allowed to drive their cars through the mall past the stores to look and decide which one to find off-street parking for and go in. How is a car-less State St. any worse off than a shopping mall? I’m just not buying the whole cars are necessary for shoppers’ business thing.

    • That’s a good point. Malls often have directory signs, and sometimes have publicity. If we are going to turn it into a pedestrian mall, we should put up highly visible, graphically pleasing directories.
      Also, malls generally don’t have e-bikes whizzing through them. That needs to be addressed. What is the purpose of the roadway in the closed area? Are pedestrians allowed to walk there? Or is it for bikes and skateboarders? Do they need all that space?

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