Save the Press Room from Demolition

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By Travis Vassallo

Dear Santa Barbara,

I have spent most of this weekend attempting to convey the entirety of my thoughts and feelings regarding the proposed development that is threatening to destroy a beloved local mainstay, The Press Room; a place that I and countless community members hold close to our hearts.  I’ve read through dozens of emails and letters from other concerned residents about this development expressing anger, sadness, disillusionment, and frustration; it has been difficult to distill all of this down into a few short paragraphs, so I’ve chosen to speak from the heart and out of love.  Love for the city I was born in, for the community I grew up with, and for the people and businesses that make Santa Barbara the incredibly special place that we all call home.

Communities are more than simply spaces humans reside in. They’re not the roads, the views, the weather; they are at the very core comprised of the people and businesses that make up the community and our home. The Press Room is the very essence of this ethos. Anchored by its love of the world’s game, soccer, The Press Room is an institution, far beyond the humble roots of a British inspired cocktail pub; a behemoth in a small package, much like Santa Barbara itself.

Owners James and Carol Rafferty opened their doors to the hearts (and bellies) of Santa Barbara over 25 years ago.  From day one, The Press Room has been a diverse and vibrant safe space for people of all walks of life, of all races and persuasions, to congregate and enjoy not only each other’s company but the company of the entire Rafferty family and its staff.  The Raffertys and their patrons have helped to contribute thousands of dollars every year to local charities and non-profits.  They provide a space for local artists to display work. They and the Press Room are Santa Barbara in microcosm. And much like the city it calls home, The Press Room faces economic forces and outside business interests that threaten to upend our peaceful coastal home. Santa Barbara has long distinguished itself from other communities by strategically and deliberately moderating its growth and protecting the character of The American Riviera.

Santa Barbara stands at a precipice, looking forward from a ledge to what our city, our community, will become.  We’ve seen countless local businesses fail due to high rents, families forced to relocate because they simply could not afford their mortgage, and the very soul of what Santa Barbara “is” slowly disintegrate into something that is looking to be nothing more than an extension of greater Los Angeles.  

To be clear, I recognize a property owner’s rights to be able to develop their land as they see fit, but it is beholden to city council to protect any and all important cultural, economic, and societal buildings or businesses that may not fit in one’s desire for profit. I realize the need for more housing in Santa Barbara, but affordable housing.  This project appears to be nothing more than a land grab intended to displace local businesses to make way for exorbitantly high rent housing and in return, high profits for its owners. SIMA Corp, and by default its principal, Jim Knell, said he, “controls 500,000 square feet of retail and office space downtown from which no fewer than 300 merchants and business professionals rent.” I would like to ask the community of Santa Barbara how they think downtown looks these days.  How many vacant businesses do you see on a day to day basis?  Do we want to tear down and destroy the essence of what makes Santa Barbara to simply to erect high cost housing? 

The Santa Barbara City Planning Commission is now presented with a real opportunity. An opportunity to potentially afford both the owner’s right to develop, the need for additional housing, and to protect a local and international landmark. 

By insisting any development take into consideration the existing Press Room and business and insisting its survival in either the new development or by paid relocation included in any permitted development, city council will help not just one local family continue their American dream but rather ensure an entire community continue to be the vibrant and diverse ecosystem we all hope it to be.  As responsible stewards of our community, The Santa Barbara City Planning Commission must do what is right for our community by protecting our iconic businesses, especially now. 

With everything that is happening and wrong in the world, The Press Room remains as a small beacon of light and losing it will leave a dark hole in our hearts during a time when many of us hardly have any heart left to lose.

I encourage everyone to participate in the Planning Commission’s virtual meeting regarding this project on Thursday, September 3rd at 1:00pm. Details can be found on the City of Santa Barbara’s website or here https://www.santabarbaraca.gov/SBdocuments/Advisory_Groups/Planning_Commission/Current/00_Public_Notices/2020-09-03_September_3_2020_710_State_Street_Notice.pdf

If you are unable to attend, you may write an email to [email protected] to have your comments entered into the public record. Please also consider adding your name to the list of more than 13,000 other signatories on a petition to save The Press Room here: https://www.change.org/p/support-saving-the-press-room-from-being-demolished-by-developers-santa-barbara

Lastly, I’d like to say that not all of these words are my own.  I have included the thoughts and sediments of many others to whom I, the Rafferty family, and The Press Room are forever grateful.


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26 Comments

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bosco Sep 02, 2020 12:32 PM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

The Press Room was the first bar I went to when I moved Santa Barbara 11 years ago. That said, I've learned that change is inevitable and it's not worth holding on to the past. The things we try to hold on to now people likely complained about when they were first being built.

a-1599069378 Sep 02, 2020 10:56 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

The City of Santa Barbara has too much money to waste on "fixing" places that don't need fixing such as the historic De La Guerra Plaza. This spot needs maintenance not a wholesale make over that makes the aesthetics no better and likely environmentally worse than now. All the plaza needs is a watered lawn, some perimeter benches and some shade trees. Keep the horseshoe road and parking. Anchored by City Hall and hopefully a renewed, vibrant newspaper someday, this is the perfect place for free speech demonstrations (heard and written about) and for just sitting. The Placita amenities were taken away due to homeless sitting there. Let them sit in the Plaza where our electeds and reporters will see them. Homelessness has not been fixed. We have too many restaurants now that can't survive even in good times. Why expand them into this public space? Leave De La Guerra Plaza alone. Spend your valuable time and money getting good housing for workers and homeless. Who needs a liability, constant maintenance, below ground public splash pad? Ridiculous! Yes, we need public restrooms. We need housing on State St. This De La Guerra Plaza charade is an Architect/Developer led boondoggle masquerading as a "public benefit". Also, keep State St. as a complete street for vehicles from the beach to Goleta. This is one historic street that is a dependable guide to tourists and keeps them from getting lost in residential areas.

PitLocal Sep 02, 2020 09:42 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

I am shocked by the apathetic sentiments in response to such a well written article that sets forth the value of keeping what little is left that makes Santa Barbara special. How UNLOCAL of all of you! Who cares what they do in Dallas TX? The mixed use buildings in Santa Barbara are not fixing the housing problems that plague our community. It is an utter fallacy that the construction of more homes in down town Santa Barbara will alleviate the housing crisis. What's the price tag on those newly constructed homes in the mixed use developments downtown? $2m? Who can afford that? Certainly not the average income resident of Santa Barbara. Most of the high end homes in Santa Barbara sit vacant most of the time. They are second homes owned by wealthy people. Because those homeowners don't live here, and have driven up the housing market prices with exorbitant amounts of money they paid for their coveted vacation homes, guess what - they don't help drive the local economy. There's less people spending money on goods and services in town. Sure, you can throw in a few 'work force' units at reduced prices, but then you're only providing housing for the lower income brackets. Again, the average income earner is left with no options. The fact that the commentators could care less about the relocation of our local establishments just goes to show how much this town has sold out to developers and tourism to the expense of the people who grew up here, who actually live and work here and who terribly miss what this town used to be. We've lost our soul.

a-1599065665 Sep 02, 2020 09:54 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

PIT, there are no housing problems plaguing this community. There is a demand problem; and even worse, an unrealistic demand problem. But that is not the city's problem. It is the person wanting to live here on the cheap and at someone else's expense. This problem has plagued this area for decades. So you err, when you claim we now have a "housing problem". We have a private demand exceeding one's grasp problem. Who fixes that one?

3P14159 Sep 02, 2020 09:17 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

when faced with this type of decision, i.e. keep the old or make room for the new, many other cities have managed to incorporate the two in surprisingly beautiful ways. if done well, the result is much more than the sum of its parts.

a good example of this is the area incorporating the Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, TX. Dealey Plaza was preserved for obvious reasons, and the surrounding area was transformed into a wonderful merging of old buildings that were enhanced for a new purpose. the obvious age and history of the entire area makes it a destination place for locals and tourists alike. needless to say, it is also quite profitable.

surely santa barbara can rise to the occasion.

mountain lion Sep 02, 2020 07:55 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

Mel’s, The Sportsman and Joe’s Cafe all relocated. Three “iconic “ establishment’s that have relocated and survived, so far.

sbdude Sep 02, 2020 07:22 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

There are so many vacant places downtown, the Press Room should have little to no trouble relocating/reinventing themselves. As for the development in question, people are (rightly) skeptical that it will be mostly vacation homes with not enough parking. It would certainly be able to garner a lot more public support than it has so far if it was somehow restricted to the full-time residents it purports to serve, and had a parking spot for each unit.

vvorker Sep 02, 2020 06:33 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

Like our beloved Roger, time to sail off into the sunset Raff...
Your fellow countryman George Harrison summed it up well.."all things must pass"
Look on the bright side of life, you got out just before the devastating earthquake methinks!!
I enjoyed the place, but after 2008, I renamed it the Depressed Room, and have stayed away!
They lost their sense of humor, much like most of society these days!!

Ahchooo Sep 01, 2020 06:19 PM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

Yes, I’m not convinced that this housing project will help. Technically there will be more housing units, but will they be lived in by locals needing housing? Or will they be mostly-empty second homes for rich out-of-towers? Will owners be allowed to rent or sublet them, thus turning them into vacation rentals? Maybe they’ll be great benefit to our community. But I am skeptical.

195930 Sep 01, 2020 03:38 PM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

Focus on the bigger picture of the motivation to permanently transform the landscape w downtown housing that will surely be overpriced and out of reach and with limited parking. How many huge projects are there going to be???? Not serving those that are suffering the most w current housing market. And, I guess water is no longer an issue?? Sad too there exists zero loyalty to the few functioning businesses that still exist.

a-1598995956 Sep 01, 2020 02:32 PM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

I do hope the Press Room is offered help to relocate by SIMA, and incentives by the City (as a long standing business in downtown) to ease the relocation expense, and perhaps the Chamber of Commerce too.

PitMix Sep 01, 2020 02:24 PM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

Don't appreciate the mean-spirited comments about this and what they say about our town. The Press Room may be forced out of their current location, and if they are, hopefully they can find another location to serve their loyal customers. But no harm in having their loyal customers make an effort to save them or have the developer work with them so they are not harmed by the development.

dogsnsand Sep 01, 2020 01:01 PM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

I wish I had something nice to say about the Press Room. During World Cup 2018, a bunch of us wanted to watch the Germany / Mexico game at 7 AM. Whoever was on duty that morning told everyone rooting for Germany they could get the hell out. So we all went to Dargan's, and that was the start of a booming World Cup business for Paul Dargan. The Press Room can move anywhere on State - there are so many vacancies. And I still will go to Dargan's for the World Cup.

a-1598988566 Sep 01, 2020 12:29 PM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

They could literally pick ANY building in downtown to relocate to right now. They're ALL available.

Seabird Sep 01, 2020 12:17 PM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

I love the Press Room as much as the next guy. Thing is, SIMA owns the building. Whether this development goes through or not, the Press Room is leased and they have only 2 years left on their lease, which SIMA is not obligated to renew and likely won't in any case. If I were the Press Room, I'd note SIMA's intentions and lack of loyalty to a 25-year tenant, finish or negotiate out of my lease, and move the bar elsewhere. SIMA sucks.

Ahchooo Sep 01, 2020 12:14 PM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

It seems a shame to displace a thriving business when there are so many vacant storefronts downtown. I’ve never been to The Press Room. Could it relocate to another building?

Getoffmylawn Sep 01, 2020 11:51 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

Bla bla bla. You don't own the property. Owners will do as they please. Waisted effort. If you need something to do, get rid of all the homeless on the railroad.

Chip of SB Sep 01, 2020 11:10 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

If today’s attitudes had prevailed in the 1920s, the building the press room occupies, and other landmarks like the courthouse, would never have been built in the first place. These buildings were new at one time, and they were dramatic changes from the status quo that existed before they were constructed.

a-1598978323 Sep 01, 2020 09:38 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

Pearl Chase Society, dedicated to historic and architectural preservation got its start when the SB Art Museum planned to demolish historic store fronts along the 1100 block of State Street as part of their major museum remodeling project. Those folks organized and fought this potential architectural loss and obtained reasonable, win-win accommodations. Both got build and the a charming aspect of the former street scape was memorialized. Grass roots activism works in this town. Can the Press Room Bar be incorporated into this building expansion plans? Work with those in the Pearl Chase Society who learned how to make this act of preservation work. Protecting Santa Barbara is never over and each new generation must take up the charge. From preventing the high rise towers where Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens now graces those blocks, to the SB Art Museum store front to now the Press Room Bar. You have to fight by inches in this town, over and over again. But each generation must pick up their share of the task.

a-1599071976 Sep 02, 2020 11:39 AM
Save the Press Room from Demolition

Good point about each generation taking a turn to help keep Santa Barbara the special place we have have long enjoyed for it's beauty, history and environmentally protective values. Such greats as Pearl Chase, Claudia Madsen, and Selma Rubin spent years in City Council meetings debating projects and educating decision makers in favor of the community's interest. They have passed on, but the struggle for the development of Santa Barbara continues. With the wealth and power of the development community today, it is not easy to stand up to them, and it appears elected officials and the staff aren't able to either. However, unless we want solid 4 stories of retro Spanish colonial crap filling our town (as one developer told me, "Just like Barcelona!"), continual water shortages, hoards of tourists, and bumper to bumper traffic, we better start working with local officials to change the current direction of the City. It's not too late.

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