Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

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By Robert Ficarra, Metro Entertainment

For the last 10 years, I've been very vocal with my frustration at the City of Santa Barbara's inability to be pro-local business. The endless studies, the revolving door at the Downtown Organization, the branding with Amazon, the insane permitting process, just the inability to take any real action or try any ideas. Meeting after meeting, nothing moves forward or gets done. The two studies cost over $100,000 and nothing useful was implemented from either of them.

Now, directly because the city has not set local businesses up for success, we are struggling more than we should be during this crisis.  Most of us are hanging on, but let's be clear, when the PPP and SBA loans run out in a few weeks it's going to be retail armageddon.  We can't survive with curbside. We can't survive at 50% capacity. We might be able to break even at best and use our dwindling savings to pay bills at home. If our politicians would have been proactive and pro-business, we would be better positioned to get through this. But they weren't.

I watched the latest city council business advisory meeting. The biggest news? They don’t know what to do. Agree on nothing. And, most importantly, if anything goes awry, “We have no plan B”. That’s an exact quote. 

Here's what I think we should all expect from leadership. Step up. Step Forward. Be seen. Tell all of us what the plan is. Have a backup plan. Better yet, have two. Try new ideas, do something. Not everything will be successful. That's ok. We understand not everything will work. Leadership is not about waiting and seeing and following the pack, stop being afraid of losing votes. We need action now. It's been two months since we've been forced to close. I spoke with one city leader who told me they expect 1/3 of all businesses to close permanently. 1/3! Since State Street was about 20% empty already, does that mean over 1/2 of State Street businesses will be closed for good? 

It's time to come out of your offices and realize what's happening to real people in real trouble.

And then get to work. Do something to help. That's your job. Start doing it.

Let me be clear, no one could have prepared us for this pandemic. I like and respect many on the council. But we need to do better. We need to move past the years of inaction and get this done.

Downtown Santa Barbara is a ghost town. It's also a dirty mess. Let's clean it up before we invite people to come shop, eat and drink again. Getting people downtown will be for nothing if it's an embarrassment. We have a real opportunity here. This isn't business as usual. Let's take advantage of the urgency and put forth lasting positive change and make real progress to save downtown. That's the goal for everyone.


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60 Comments

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GeneralTree Oct 22, 2021 12:05 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Landlords inflate rents - business owners then need to charge exorbitant costs for goods and services. Meanwhile the city can't seem to put a few more cops on State street to deal with the aggressive homeless and gangs. Locals don't want to go downtown. How many trendy shops, wine-snob vineyards, hipster coffee, wine and cheese places does a downtown need? Business owners need to be flexible to remain competitive. Flexibility includes running a business that offers goods or services people want and can afford.

CPlocal May 20, 2020 04:38 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

I have had no desire to go downtown for years, and now that Nordstrom is closing, I'll probably venture down to Thousand Oaks for shopping . Downtown is a filthy homeless pigsty and an embarrassment. Santa Barbara does not have the reputation it used to, especially amongst locals. The last time I was on lower State Street with out-of-town guests, I found myself making apologies for how gross the area was. I do like the idea of closing State on some days for street fests, art shows, Farmer's Market, etc. , much like Santa Monica. Make it fun, clean it up, and maybe I'll come down.

a-1589830754 May 18, 2020 12:39 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

The people of Santa Barbara are world class complainers. If your business is doing poorly, complain about all them city regulations. If you do not like what a business sells or looks like, complain that the city should have more regulations.

a-1589826704 May 18, 2020 11:31 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

in my four decades in Santa Barbara County and city I cannot recall a time when the downtown businesses were NOT disgruntled, and North County Oil/Ag corporations were not bashing "South County" electeds. The bashing heightens when the electeds are of a female persuasion. So, whether pandemic or mudslide, wildfire drought or recession- always look to these special interests to zero in on whomever they view as a vulnerable target who will get so tired of their whining that they give in. Andy Caldwell, Ed St G, really doesn't matter, there are dozens to fill their shoes. and the "thought leaders"/bloggers who give them a platform

PitMix May 18, 2020 03:23 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

I've seen her plenty, just not on Faux News. Really, what can she do except hang on and hope for the best just like the rest of us? Being mayor of one small town doesn't give her a lot of options.

SantaBarbaraObserver May 17, 2020 09:04 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

A large part of the problem is the lack of any business experience, especially entrepreneurial, in local government. Many, if not most of the highly paid managers hold degrees in government: public policy, civic planning, law, accounting and specialized fields like civil engineering and traffic planning for example. They have never had to make tough choices on who gets paid what or managed a P/L based on hard earned and non guaranteed revenue. They have never had to choose whether to pay themselves or to pay their suppliers. They literally went to school to learn how to find ways to create more fees, fines, taxes and regulations. To expect these people, or their bureaucracies to change in anyway that is detrimental to their own existence is crazy. ||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||| The only way to fix this mess is to re-think the entire roll of local government and to then staff accordingly. The upcoming economic depression that will hit SB may be one way to do this. The city needs to cut a sizeable portion of its staff and services ASAP. What we really need to do is make sure that the ones they choose to keep are the ones that are best for the people, for the future of SB and not the best the bureaucracy and the public employee unions… Now is the time to re-think our city and to rebuild for the future. Where is our modern day Pearl Chase? Its not in City Hall and its certainly not in any committee put together by the CoC. As if lawyers accountants and middle managers have ever created anything new...

NotReallyDave May 17, 2020 01:25 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

You are right OBSERVER. We the people need to reclaim the government that is ours. Take control of it instead of letting the "public servants" tell us how it is supposed to work. We should be telling THEM! And one part of taking control is to manage the money being spent, not letting "the administration" make big ticket decisions that benefit "staff" or unions or special interests or tourists. Look at this: the administration currently has decided that there needs to be more than 1000 City employees for the operation of the City of Santa Barbara with a population of 90,000 plus. But Santa Maria and Ventura, both with more than 100,000 people, only need 600 or fewer employees. Just imagine how much YOU are being taxed to keep 400 people employed. When you have government employees negotiating their own salaries, benefits, perks, etc., the real taxpayers will lose every time. Maybe these highrollers in the administration think high salaries are "encouraging the economy".

SoapBox May 17, 2020 08:53 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

I'd put the responsibility on local businesses to support a vibrant downtown rather than the other way around. If you have an unsuccessful business before, during, or after this crisis, it is your responsibility to adapt, attract customers and offer something that draws people to your business and our downtown, or perish. A cramped, dumpy retail space devoted to a niche audience, with a woefully outdated online presence and lacking online retail or any meaningful social media community beyond a GoFundMe campaign, is unlikely to survive under any condition.

Get over it May 17, 2020 05:02 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

@Soap The businesses have the responsibility of running a responsible and hopefully profitable business. The city has the responsibility of ensuring the environment for that. They have not. The amount of money and time and more money it takes to jump through the city's Labrinth of hoops to start and run a business is crazy. They are paid by us to make sure the environment for business is stable. We pay to be inspected, for licensing, for multiple permits...so we can be inspected by them too. Although if nobody is buying anything, maybe they will have to eliminate some of these positions. LOL! Like that would ever happen.

bobficarra May 17, 2020 03:23 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Soapbox I have a 29 year successful business. As soon as local business has control over being overtaxed, insane fees, the homeless problem, outrageous permit guidelines and wait times and all the other issues our officials have ignored and/or pushed to the side maybe you'd have a point. For years the people in charge have been riding the Santa Barbara name instead of being proactive with solutions to keep downtown thriving.

PitMix May 18, 2020 12:25 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Ok, 1 in 500 years was wrong, how about once in a lifetime for most of us? No way there have been 10 pandemics worse than this one in terms of fatalities since 1918. SBO, you know what they say about assumptions, and you are making a lot of them. If these problems are so easy to solve, get off the sidelines and start implementing your great ideas.

SantaBarbaraObserver May 18, 2020 11:02 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Pit likely works for the city or has close ties. They (proper pronoun for the unknown) are always defending the City and County, especially the worst mayor in our town's history -Ms. wet noodle herself, Cathy Murillo. They have made many claims to live on the Westside, but sometimes its Carp. Especially in the threads where they are defending Das... Take that for what you will Sam.

Sam The Dog May 18, 2020 10:46 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Once in 500 years Pitmix? There has been about 10 since the great Spanish Flue of the early 1900's. This one seems so much worse because of how we responsed to the virus not the virus itself.

PitMix May 18, 2020 10:17 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Please show me the language in the Voter Guide that said our electeds are responsible for developing a business plan for responding to a once in 500 years pandemic? They are supposed to be primarily responsible for delivering basic services- water, trash pickup, sewage treatment, and then they also have regulatory authority over development which includes businesses and residences. The reality is that many of these problems have not been solved by anyone, so it is not a question of ignorant electeds ignoring the obvious.

Luvaduck May 16, 2020 08:04 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Santa Barbara is still a tourist destination, just different clientele: They arrive here, pick up a shopping cart, locate a kip or a camp, ask where the good pickins' are and enjoy the good weather.

Lucky 777 May 16, 2020 12:31 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Until downtown is perceived as clean and inviting, the tourists will not come there. They may come to the beach area, but the dirty combat zone core feels like a place where only misfits and the unwashed are welcome. This lockdown IS giving us a great opportunity to reset the priorities for downtown, give locals a reason to go there as well as visitors. I support the idea of making much of State a pedestrian Mall. Allow restaurants to spread out to provide outdoor seating, then throw block parties, concerts, swap meet days. Here's a successful example: In Amsterdam on Queen's Day they make the whole city no vehicles and everyone hauls out their old stuff and does a yard sale. The parks are reserved just for children selling their old toys. As a mercantile culture, they want their kids to learn young to sell their old toys to someone younger, then go use the money to buy something from another kid. As far as I see it the only thing that works downtown is Farmer's Market. So expand on that. Have one day a week artists can come set up tables and take a chance at selling whatever it is they make. One day a month motorcycle swap meet day. Anything like that would get people into the downtown, and as they walk past the brick-and-mortar shops one would hope they'd be enticed in. What needs to GO are the endless rules that the City would impose on anything like this....... the useless bureaucrats stifle every innovation.

a-1589727849 May 17, 2020 08:04 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

As for a successful example, San Jose del Cabo in Baja has an arts and crafts fair one evening a week in their downtown. Their population is similar to ours. If they can do it, so can S. B.

a-1589608743 May 15, 2020 10:59 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Close off State from Gutierrez to Figueroa to cars, at least temporarily. It works all over Europe. But if it doesn’t work, open it back up. Most downtowns are a square of about six blocks, not one long strip of 15 blocks. Have an arts and crafts fair one evening a week.

SBWalkers May 16, 2020 06:53 AM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Agree with closing State from Gutierrez to 'about' Figueroa... .. Also, also allow the businesses to put service and displays from the front of their business to the curb, for outdoor services. Put stand up tables for food/drink (including alcohol) with distancing. Clothing stores and the like can put some racks out also... Yes, details would need to be thought through, but would be a great step in the right direction to get the businesses back to reality.

Ahchooo May 15, 2020 05:26 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

I would really like to hear some good suggestions for how to improve business downtown. In the Before Times I loved walking around the area near the Art Museum. La Arcada is a fantastic asset to the city, for example. And I enjoy restaurants. But I don’t buy many gifts, never buy comic books, rarely like the clothes on offer in boutiques, prefer the library over bookstores. I don’t need much, so my monetary contribution is small. I think I am not the target demographic. Is anybody? What would actually bring people to the stores?

RHS May 15, 2020 04:58 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

The knee jerk need to blame someone or some group for a national disaster is sad. We need to pull together to get through this in a positive way. Yes, it is awful. No, it was not the fault of anyone. It is happening anyway and to allow it to cause these angry accusations and scapegoating posts is destructive to our society.

a-1589611746 May 15, 2020 11:49 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

If you speak out against the CCP you will disappear. They are brutal. So no, they don't care about their own. Their mitigation measures were not for the benefit of their people rather for the benefit of themselves - their cover up. Look at how they locked down people. Just awful.

ChemicalSuperFreak May 15, 2020 11:05 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Mao Zedong's 'Great Leap Forward' was responsible for the starvation and death of 45 million Chinese. "Killing tens of thousands of their own" is nothing for the CPC.

a-1589607599 May 15, 2020 10:39 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

No one is blaming the Chinese. We are blaming their government for covering this up early on for what reason no one knows but we can certainly come to educated guesses - they thought they'd get it under control, wanted to stem other countries ordering PPE and vents, they were doing a no-no in that lab . . . goes on and on. but yes, CCP is wholly to blame.

a-1589607596 May 15, 2020 10:39 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

No one is blaming the Chinese. We are blaming their government for covering this up early on for what reason no one knows but we can certainly come to educated guesses - they thought they'd get it under control, wanted to stem other countries ordering PPE and vents, they were doing a no-no in that lab . . . goes on and on. but yes, CCP is wholly to blame.

a-1589592832 May 15, 2020 06:33 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Without question it was the fault of [fill in the blank]. How silly to blame the Chinese for a virus that killed tens of thousands of their own. (Oh, I forgot, they don't care about that.)

millimesa May 15, 2020 04:24 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

The ironic part is Bob Ficarra has been writing pieces like this for the 10 years he claims the city government has been neglecting the downtown. However, if you were to drive by Bob's business in the first block of West Anapamu, 99.1 % of people would never consider walking in. Good businesses provide a good or service that people want. Pre-Covid-19 shutdown the downtown was doing great. You can't use empty retail square footage as a measurement of economic growth. The good majority of businesses thrived in the downtown over the past 10 years. You 're attacking your local leaders while there hands are tied behind there back. The state is on lockdown Bob.

bobficarra May 15, 2020 04:52 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Sorry, I don’t reply to people that can’t put their name to their comments. I welcome constructive discussions in person without clever internet nicknames to hide behind.

a-1589586290 May 15, 2020 04:44 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Hey Bob, I have been in business for thirty years and sales are down 50% from pre crisis levels. Where is my pony? Stop blaming City Hall for the decline of bricks and mortar business now made worse by Covid 19. Look at that fancy typewriter computer thing in your office and realize that almost anything can be purchased online and delivered to your door.

bobficarra May 15, 2020 04:36 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Downtown was doing great? You may have missed the 70 empty storefronts on State Street that says otherwise. As for my shop, I’ll let my 29 years in business speak for itself. Your nameless attacks speak of a personal agenda.

Chip of SB May 15, 2020 04:13 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

Perhaps this could be a once in a generation opportunity for reform. The city is the biggest obstacle to business in this town. In order to allow businesses to succeed, we need to fire all the bureaucrats that delay and obstruct progress. The permitting process should be scrapped, and all restrictions drastically cut. Whatever rules remain should be simple and 100% objective. You meet the letter of the law, you're good to go. No subjective interpretations or uncertainty allowed. Let the commercial property and business owners call the shots and we could see a renaissance downtown like never before. However, if we continue with heavy handed city regulation we ought to consider a program to start demolishing the abandoned buildings and returning the land to nature. Detroit has had some excellent results with that approach.

SBCARNUT53 May 15, 2020 04:13 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

I doubt that this comment will be posted as I seem to have been silenced? The question as to what to do with the downtown area? 1) Get rid of the bike lanes, they are rarely used & when they are the riders are usually in the traffic lane. 2) Go back to what we had in the 80's allow parking on the street & make it free! make it easy for people instead of making it a challenge. Sure we have some parking lots that offer parking , big deal. The lots were poorly designed & you have to pay. 3) The powers to be need to realize we as a people are driving our cars...…. quit trying to make this a bike city, it's not going to work. Example , look what the city did to Cota street , blocks and blocks of parking gone! for what , bike riders. I think I've seen it once! I do travel that street frequently. 4) Maybe our City leaders, if that's what they are? should drive down to the downtown area of Palm Springs, it thrives...……. why because they have easy access right in front of most business's & beautiful parking structures that are all free. Palm Springs City Govt. works! why can't ours. I have a place in Palm Springs & my wife and I are there often, very few empty storefronts. 5) Quit with the meter maids, men giving tickets every time you turn around. Just a few thoughts, but I remember when downtoe=wn Santa Barbara rocked! No More! SAD...………..

a-1589583645 May 15, 2020 04:00 PM
Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses

When the tourists return, they will bring with them.....money, money, money, much needed money. Will they bring the covid virus along with them? I'd say no more than the gazillions of people wandering around town today (and the last several week) with no social distancing or face coverings. I mean really, what are we gonna do....stay at home for rest of our lives, or live life to its fullest. Bring on the money-spending tourists, baby! Fill up the hotels. Fill up the restaurants. Fill up the sidewalks. Fill p the movie theaters.

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