Randy Blames City’s Sweetheart Union Deal in Library Plaza Mess; Talks Cruise Ships, State St., Rents, Paseo

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse in conversation with Jerry Roberts of Newsmakers

Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse says he views the cost overruns and long delays in the troubled Library Plaza project as “the poster child” for the city’s Project Labor Agreement with construction unions.

The project, scheduled for completion last fall at a cost of $9.3 million, now is not expected to be finished until July at the earliest, with a price tag approaching $11 million, a fiasco which the mayor ascribes largely to the PLA.

That agreement, passed by City Council in 2018 and also known as a Community Workforce Agreement, requires the city to hire only union contractors for major public works projects. The result for the library project, Rowse said, was that only two contractors, both from out of town, bid on the complex job, which has been beset by problems from ground-breaking two years ago.

In a special “Ask the Mayor” episode of Newsmakers TV, Rowse expressed hope that the debacle might be enough to convince some of his colleagues to join his opposition to the agreement, and revisit it at a time when the city has several upcoming major building projects, including a new police station. That seems like a long shot, however, in a year when three council members will be looking for support for re-election bids from the Democratic Party, which pushed the PLA onto the city and county government agendas.

In his appearance, an hour before he was scheduled to deliver a “State of the City” address at an annual South Coast Chamber of Commerce event, Rowse also discussed other key issues that now confront City Hall, stating that:

  • The city faces a “three or four percent” projected deficit for the fiscal year that begins July 1, indicating it will be manageable with cost controls, despite recent declines in local sales and transient occupancy tax revenues;

  • The council vote this week imposing a 20-visit-a-year cap, and other new regulations, on the cruise ship industry, was the latest example of the lefty social engineering affliction of the council’s majority, with only the mayor opposing the new measure;

  • The State Street “promenade,” the lamentable result of council clinging for five years to the pandemic-era closure to traffic of nine blocks of SB’s downtown corridor, is a failed policy that continues to damage business activity;

  • The ongoing, behind-the-scenes negotiations over a major new housing project at the Paseo Nuevo mall have been complicated by inflation and ongoing uncertainty about interest rates, and should not be made even more complex by a priori council efforts to make starry-eyed demands about affordable housing before there is even an actual deal;

  • He will not be endorsing in any of this year’s City Council races, as incumbents Alejandra Gutierrez, Mike Jordan, and Oscar Gutierrez seek re-election, not because he opposes any of them but because of a personal desire to avoid unforeseen political entanglements.

 Plus: Don’t miss Josh pressing Randy to reveal the double-secret identity of his favorite colleague.

All this and more, right here, right now on Newsmakers TV.

Check out “Ask the Mayor” via YouTube below, or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here. TVSB, Channel 17, airs the show M-F at 8 p.m. and at 9 a.m. on weekends. KCSB, 91.9 FM, broadcasts the program at 5:30 p.m. on Monday.


Written by Jerry Roberts

“Newsmakers” is a multimedia journalism platform that focuses on politics, media and public affairs in Santa Barbara. Learn more at newsmakerswithjr.com

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    • Sac, i work on State Street, downtown. Yes, the removal of traffic has hurt all businesses down here unless you own a bar or a diner. We have had a 25% reduction in walk ins. Our neighbors have had a 35% drop in foot traffic. Many people wtih mobility issues find it difficult to navigate the parking garages and lots and get back to State Street. We have literally been told by customers that they won’t come down here until the road is reopened. The road was closed from the pandemic with a promise to reopen once restrictions were lifted. They have been lifted. Time to get back to business.
      One more thing to add, we have had all of our festivals and parades moved or canceled flat out due to a handful of diners that want to use the gutters for their diners. Which is another thing. Yeah come downtown SB and pay grossly inflated costs for eating out, which you enjoy your meal in the gutter.
      The closer of State only helps the restraunts and bars because that allows them to use sidewalk and gutter space for tables and chairs. Other retail downtown suffers. I have been employed here over 10 years and the numbers don’t lie.

      • KNein – Love the name by the way lol! Interesting perspective and similar to what I’ve heard about this. I just wonder why some people are so adamant about cars being on State again. Like, why would someone go into a store more if they could drive past it rather than walk up to it? I just don’t get it, but hey…. not for me to get I guess!

        Personally, I LOVE being able to walk down it. I think they should keep it ped-only for a few blocks and go all out with the promenade idea. It doesn’t need to be all the way up to Carrillo. And yeah, sitting near storm drains is a little much, but I can totally see why people like the idea of eating outside by the street. Very European. If they can come up with a permanent solution and designate some blocks just for this, I think it would be great.

          • Great points, OrvGull. Eating outside and breathing clean air should be a priority. Being able to drive by a store as opposed to walking by seems to be a strange customer demand. I don’t see how the majority could feel this way.

            Have there been any polls done of tourists to see what they prefer?

            • Sac. thanks for the invite. As I said previously, my wife and I are on State Street every 6 months or so, 4-5 nights for the last 16 years now. We do not enjoy the street being closed at all. We love walking to the wharf, to the harbor and back. We stay at the Hotel Santa Barbara. But, sometimes, we get tired. We transverse the wharf to Victoria street a lot. Now, without the trolley, sometimes it gets tiring.
              We enjoy sitting at a coffee and tea spot and watching the various vehicles cruising State. The landshark with young party goers. The people showing off their different cars etc. Now, its just E-bikes racing up and down with you dodging them. I see them doing wheelies and dangerous stunts. Fact is, with pedestrians having to be on the side walks, the shops other than Restaurants do not get the same amount of window shopping. People are in the street. I enjoy eating outside occasionally, but you could expand the side walks ever so little, and have a small amount of tables on the sidewalk. People are not as inclined to walk above the 800 block. It seems the only place that is busier is the 500 block. All the parades and festivals, are gone . Yes, State Street was deteriorating somewhat before the Street closure, but the closure has accelerated that situation. State Street has become a magnet for ‘hanging out’ instead of purchasing. We never felt uncomfortable on State Street before the pandemic. Now you had better keep your wits about you. There is a far different element on State and zero police presence to keep it minimized. I warned of this in letters to the editor in Noozhawk some time ago and said straight up there was going to be violent confrontations ending in tragedy if this situation was not addressed, in a year of my writing this you had multiply stabbings and a horrific shooting at the wharf.
              Let me give you an example of my experiences. One weekend we were walking up State going to lunch. A guy comes by screaming at the top of his lungs at me and others, ‘YOUR DEAD’! He looks but makes no menacing moves. We are now returning some hours later, and he is laying in the middle of the street unconscious. Cops came and removed him. Next day, we are walking up State St and same guy is in the middle of the street, shadow boxing and threatening passer bys. A few salty looking friends sitting on the curb yelling, egging him on. We see drug deals going down. The panhandlers are getting aggressive. We see vagrants living in the store doorway and there is that smell of Urine now up and down State. We sat in a table at Joes Cafe one night and the stench was coming through the back door into the dining area. I watched another person slamming his backpack on the ground violently in the middle of State screaming calling out everyone around him/ Many of these people are insane and need intervention, BUT many are just felons that have now made State Street their new home. They are just plain bad apples. It breaks my heart to see what was a utopian mecca degrade into the same garbage I have witnessed over and over again. I spent half my life in NYC and half dealing cards in Las Vegas. I know the street and I am telling you, you guys do NOT want this element taking root in your spectacular city.
              Wonder why the Hotel Santa Barbara took down its awning? Guys climbing on it and no one to intervene. They never brought back the food and coffee they offered in the lobby, because it was a magnet for vagrants. They could not keep them out of the lobby. We NEVER see any police walking the beat on State. There is zero deterrence. They should at least have undercover officers mixed in . I
              I watched Oscar Guiterez on Josh Molinas talk pod cast. Molina tells him the building owners on state street that lease the shops, want the street opened, Guiterez says ‘but it makes the young people from his district feel more welcome with it closed. ‘Really?? You need locals and tourist alike spending dollars on State. Not be worried about 16 yr old bike riders racing up an down and not helping the local economy/
              From what I am reading, 90% of closed streets fail. Many large store chains will not invest in a closed street. I think it is time to open state to vehicles, bring back the planned festivities and once and for all run off the dangerous elements. I have a very good friend in Mission Viejo and she tells me the word is ‘Do not go to Santa Barbara’ its dangerous. My best friends son lives in San Fran and told him that is the word now in San Francisco also…of all places!
              I love Santa Barbara and hope these warnings are heeded before it gets too far gone and there is no return.

              • “All the parades and festivals are gone. …
                It breaks my heart to see what was a utopian mecca degrade into the same garbage I have witnessed over and over again.”

                Gone? “utopian mecca”?!?!
                Exaggeration does not help make an argument.

              • Found your very similar post on Newshawk Chalf. Looks like you live in Las Vegas, per that post. Please explain to me how Vegas is safer and less filthy than Santa Barbara.. the town you visit multiple times per year.

                • Now Sac, that is untrue and you know it. If any complaints are lodged about Stae Sytreet, they are meant to be an impetus to inprove it, so do not be hateful as you always say. The fact is, your town is special, unique and Stae Street, as I have said many times, is one of the most beautiful [places I have ever been and I travel often. Having said that, there is a gradual deterioration, is there not? I fear people like yourself refuse to see the reason and address it. But you know what if you do not want to heed friendly advice from tourist , so be it.

                  • CHALF – if that’s “untrue” then why did you say you’re from Vegas and why do you ONLY complain about SB here?

                    And yes, there has been a deterioration on State, has been for 40+ years. I grew up working/hanging out on State DAILY. There’s always been homeless, mentally ill, gangs, fights, drunk college kids, the stench of urine, etc etc etc. This is nothing new. What IS new, is the tireless and constant complaining by a few out of towners on our local news site. Additionally, what is new is the very few who think opening State to cars again will somehow boost business and fill up retail stores again.

                    Whether there are cars driving up and down State again, filling our air with pollution from idling engines and causing accidents, there will STILL be mentally ill people, gangs and drunks. Always has been, always will be…. until this country begins helping it’s vulnerable citizens.

                    And seriously? “friendly advice from a tourist?” ROFLMAO! Unbelievable the stones you have to say that LOL!

  1. Isn’t Randy Rowse speaking at an upcoming Santa Barbara Republican Club fundraising luncheon soon? The same local club that puts out newsletters full of lies and hateful rhetoric. Interesting, especially from a guy who says he’s definitely not a republican, but he seems to be ok speaking to a room full of people who believe the election was stolen, LGBTQ people shouldn’t exist, and Christianity should be the only religion

    • Is he? Why don’t you find out for certain, and then report back with a full documentation of all the various accusations and assertions you’ve just made, to all of us, when you know what you’re talking about? That would be of some value. Otherwise, your full of gas, Anonymous.

      • Yeesh Basic, I must have struck a nerve with you. Below is the event listing for this cult meeting: https://www.sbrclub.org/events.html
        You can see Rowse is the speaker.
        Mosey on over to the group’s Facebook page and see all the craziness for yourself or better yet subscribe to their newsletter. The majority of what they post is not based in fact but just more fear based propaganda. Sorry if that hurts your feelings.

        • Not at all, I’m just looking for honesty – not assumptions and accusations without basis. Ok, he’s speaking there – thanks for that. I don’t spend any time on Facebook, but I’ll check it out. So you subscribe to their newsletter and yet hate them? My feelings aren’t hurt, and no nerves struck whatsoever.

            • really? lol! i know him personally, and I have to say after your comment, that you do not. Randy is a good guy. He’s only one vote on the council. He doesn’t wield powers that allow him to override or do what he wants, just one vote as well as the rest of them. There are far more people in the city council to go on and on about than Randy.

      • Why do you always say people are just making things up out of thin air and full of assumptions when you don’t agree with them, even when you have no reason to believe they are, or in some cases know full well they’re speaking honestly? It’s your go-to response.

    • Anonymous- do you realize that any single comment on social media on any given website doesn’t mean jack sh-t? It’s a crap show on both sides – the left and the right. Anonymous, random posters everywhere. What I see from the SB Republican Club’s Facebook page overall is it’s hard right. Just like you’re probably hard left, based on your comments. I saw nothing about certain people shouldn’t exist and Christianity being the only religion from that group. Maybe there are some commenters that have said that, which means zero. Anyone can come up with anything. “Craziness”? Well I can bet that there are tons of people who will think your views as a liberal – am I right? – are crazy. I think both extreme sides are wrong and are screwing up this country.

      I’m not defending or supporting the SB Republican group. It sounds like you’re trying to rubber stamp Rowse as a bigot because he’s going to speak at one of their meetings.

      • Geez Louise, some people love to argue. Sign up for their newsletter, read the articles they post and judge for yourself. I sign up for all the local political party newsletters because I like to know what’s being said. I did the same for the local GOP and I’ve found it to be mostly lies.

          • Can’t believe I’m even responding to you again but no… both sides are not extreme. Both parties have their issues, of course, but comparing the MAGA extremist to liberal socialism cannot be compared by any rational thinker. It’s like comparing a bird to David Koresh or [insert cult leader’s name here].

            • ANON – great point. While the far left can be a bit much, it’s about where folks’ hearts are at in my opinion. The far left is about including and giving opportunities to those who have been historically oppressed and/or marginalized, while the those on the far right are about exclusion, hate, fear and vehement selfishness. Not my opinion, but factual conclusion based on the laws they want passed, their comments, etc.

              The far left hates bigots. The far right hates people for how they were born. HUGE difference.

            • That members of the group he is speaking to engage in some pretty nasty bigotry. My point is, you instantly attack people for “making things up” without even bothering to consider they might be telling the truth. Verify, then call out. It’s a better system.

              And yeah, I probably will be deleted, but ONLY for responding to your snarky comment. It’s how it works here and has been for years.

      • ” Just like you’re probably hard left, based on your comments.”

        That’s yet another blatant lie. Their comments simply noted facts about the SB Republican Club and that Rowse will be speaking to them … they didn’t reveal anything about their politics other than that they don’t think much of right wing radicalism, which is true of most people, even Liz Cheney. Mona Charon, a very conservative person writing for the very conservative Bulwark recently wrote https://www.thebulwark.com/p/the-gop-is-the-party-of-putin

    • He’s the mayor of ALL residents. City council Reps are all registered Democrats. Registered No Party Preference are 24% of voters; GOP are 27% last time I checked. The majority of City resident voters have NO representation on Council except for Mayor Rowse. He represents 100% which includes our 51% – majority of non registered Democrats.

  2. “The State Street “promenade,” the lamentable result of council clinging for five years to the pandemic-era closure to traffic of nine blocks of SB’s downtown corridor, is a failed policy that continues to damage business activity”

    The other members of the council represent the wishes of the community; Rouse doesn’t.

    • Based on what, exactly? Those bogus “surveys” done by the consultants? Sadly, council members seem to be more concerned about possibly upsetting anyone than about making the decisions they were elected to make. If we want the street opened or if we want it closed, it’s time to start designing appropriately. Constantly avoiding that decision only results in this protracted status quo. It’s hard for property owners and businesses to move forward when the council won’t. The uncertainty only leads to stagnation. If the council is unable to make even the basic decision of whether the street should be open or closed, maybe it is time to put the question before voters in the form of an advisory election. That way the council could avoid blame for making a decision that at least some people will disagree with, and we could finally move forward.

      • Bogus surveys and other silly processes such as alleged community meetings and “dialogue” with “stakeholders” and “brainstorming” and “input” and “charettes” should all be suspect and done away with. Elected reps and the staff should and do know what the people want or can find out pretty directly. These process things are basically a way to stall and dilute community ideas in favor of contrary staff proposals. We see this every day in the State Street problem. The public wants an open and free street without dedication to special interests. The staff wants some “paseo” fantasy with bicycles and 30 something urbanites doing happy hour, brunches, art shows and theater. Interrupted occasionally by tourists from ships or from busses depositing them at the wharf.

  3. Be nice if the reporter, however established and well-known, *reported* only the facts rather than injecting opinion. The word “lamentable,” for example, may be Rouse’s opinion, and I gather Roberts’, but has no place in a supposedly objective news story.

    • “Newsmakers with Jerry Roberts” is a
      **reported opinion blog that presents Jerry’s take on local news,**
      along with analysis and commentary about state and national politics. The site also publishes enterprise reporting from other Santa Barbara journalists and provides an open forum for op-eds and essays from all perspectives.

      It’s not a report of only the facts, it’s opinion.

  4. Rowse and his ilk never miss a chance to attack unions. He offers no evidence of his claim, sort of like Trump, but plays to bias and provincialism. (Did Rowse only serve locals at this restaurants? Did Rowse’s employees all reside in SB City?? Did the food and alcohol vendors all come from SB City business sites???) Union organization is the only effective way to fight for better wages and a more equitable sharing of the profits these contracts generate. We need politicians that stand up for the middle class, not the money class.

  5. 6.5 million tourists visited the Santa Barbara South Coast in 2023, spent approximately $2.24 billion
    The tax revenue from tourism amounts to 45% of the City of SB’s general fund budget.

    I think the answer is some % of people are very visual. They like to do a drive thru and see what and where things are. others just park it and get to walking, other people aren’t going to walk much, they want to see something, park close. The key to selling anything to max possible volume is to make everything about the buying experience welcoming, easy and pleasant for the broadest swath of people. A difference in sales of 10% can be huge. The city of sb would love to have a 10% increase in tourist revenue to prop up the general fund and the thinking is that we want to entice more people to stay overnight (50% of tourists are day trippers). That said, I don’t know if reopening State would increase sales quickly and the only way to know would be to open it up for an extended length of time to see.
    Or we could stay the course and see if sales improve as people become acclimated to the new.

    Simple fact is COVID lockdowns really hurt retail, bars, restaurants and in a way you could say that COVID lockdowns closed those businesses to any and all traffic for extended periods of time, and yes, they did drop like flies. We are still recovering from everything COVID

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