Op Ed: Santa Barbara Needs to Support Local Businesses
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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