Solutions to Downtown Santa Barbara Retail Crisis

I’m a Santa Barbara native, left for about 15 years, and returned during the pandemic.

I know this has been a hot topic for a while now, but what is going on with the downtown retail area? Is there any real solution to the problem?

I understand retailers are saying high rent and the homeless crisis are issues while landlords blame the city, the promenade, lack of quality renters, and online retail. But it’s really sad to see a once vibrant shopping area reduced to a smattering of outdoor dining shacks.

Are there any true solutions? Seems like other tourist towns have been able to keep their shopping districts alive so why can’t we?

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    • I owned a tiny sliver off a building in the 400 block of State St. Four blocks to the beach and it was a NIGHTMARE of daily feces on the doorstep our even a sleeping person. They had to remove the pretty bench outside because it smelled so bad of piss.
      I agree that shopping has diminished because of online shopping but the area could be vibrant with service related businesses and cafes.
      NO doubt that letting scary people roam the area has killed it!
      It is one thing to be homeless and be working and trying to get housing and another to just be a crazy person on the loose.
      Even another to be a drunkard or drug addict.

      • Absolutely the truth. We visit Santa Barbara every six months now for 15 years and stay at the Hotel Santa Barbara. The hotel had to get rid of its awning because people were climbing on it. We have seen a huge deterioration of State Street. The closing of the Street made matters worse. It is a hang out now for druggies, e-bikers doing 40 mph down the street. Crazy people threatening families and zero police presence. No means to get form the wharf to Victoria without walking. The vibrant traffic of watching cars and tour buses going up and down State street, which helps people watchers drink coffee and enjoy the livliness, is gone. The City council has killed State Street as has the zero policing policy on State street. There are knife fights on State Street now! This was unheard of when we first started coming. Obviously, the city councilmen NEVER walk State Street. Come 9pm it is night of the living dead . Mayor Randi Rouse keeps trying, but the councilmen thwart his common sense at every turn. VOTE THEM OUT!!!

        • The only think the Mayor keeps trying to do is to lead multiple revotes on the closure of State St. seeing if eventually someone will agree with him. We don’t agree. Instead he should focus on expediting a beautiful solution to a properly designed pedestrian mall with landscaping, street furniture, etc. and police it so that people enjoy the space and bring vibrancy back.

          • The mayor is simply trying to get the Council to actually make a decision, one way or another, instead of constantly kicking the can down the road with more consultants and studies. Come on, Council – you don’t need a consultant to decide whether you want the street opened or closed. That’s what you were elected to do. Once that basic decision is made, the city can move forward with appropriate improvements. As it is, at least two councilmembers will be termed out before the “study” is finished. The mayor, I would guess – like most of us – is just frustrated by the current state of the street!

        • ” e-bikers doing 40 mph down the street.” – Ebikes aren’t mechanically able to go 40 mph.

          “zero police presence.” – There is police presence, just not when you want to see it.

          “No means to get form the wharf to Victoria without walking.” – You can get to the wharf by shuttle, bus, taxi, Uber, bike, etc.

          “There are knife fights on State Street now! This was unheard of when we first started coming.” – There have ALWAYS been knife fights, ever since I was born here over 40 years ago.

          EVERYTHING you say is untrue about SB. You’re not even from here. Please just quit with bashing our home with lies and hate.

  1. This has nothing to do with partisan politics and everything to do with greedy landlords who would rather let their properties sit vacant (and reap the tax loss benefits) than lower the asking price to facilitate occupancy.

    The reality is that the vacancy rate on some blocks of State Street downtown approaches 40% and in the “better blocks” is still 15-20%. Take a closer look. Quite a few storefronts are window dressing covering empty retail spaces. Go ahead. Count them. But there’s no law regulating greed.

    Do not blame “the homeless issue.” Of course we must address that as a humanitarian priority and that is indeed happening. There are plenty of examples of California coastal cities that are thriving with vibrant retail in spite of homeless population. The problem here is focused on greed and the privileged wealthy who don’t need to care. In my opinion, anyway.

  2. I agree that our downtown has changed drastically over the years. But so are the types of shops that people need to shop in.i for one never go down town. Unfortunately online you can sit home order anything you need and it shows up on your porch. I resisted this kind of shopping until COVID forced it on us. We who were born here have to realize that our quaint small town is no longer. Gone are the days we went to state street and knew everyone down there, we could hang out at the Photo Booth or go for a pony ride go roller skating or miniature golfing. Those are great memories we are so very lucky to have but that is not what Santa Barbara is anymore. Yes it’s a beautiful place slowly getting turned into Orange County. I fear we will have no open space soon. There has to be a limit on just how many people live here.

  3. You know the shop owners complain about the Vagrants, the closed street and the high leases???? Maybe if you listen to them!! No one is going shopping where their wives and children are verbally assaulted by druggies and mentally ill. No one is walking 11 long blocks from the wharf to Victoria without the help of the shuttle. Seems the councilman refuse to implement anything the actual shop owners or locals and tourists keep addressing. Time to vote these ideologues out. Doing nothing will continue to see the decline of business on State St.

  4. California Retail Areas that seems to be thriving:
    1. Carmel-by-the-Sea
    2. Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade
    3. The Grove, LA
    4. Santana Row, San Jose
    5. Irvine Spectrum Center
    6. El Paseo Shopping District, Palm Desert
    7. South Coast Plaza

    Of these it seems like Carmel, 3rd Street, Grove, and Santana Row are the most similar to State Street. What can we learn from these places?

    • Looking at here’s what I’ve found.

      1. Carmel has only 5 commercial lease vacancies
      2. Third Street has about 50 vacancies
      3. Grove – no data
      4. Santana Row – 3 vacancies

      For reference Santa Barbara has 25 commercial vacancies listed on
      Looks like Carmel is the most appropriate comparison.

  5. I don’t think it’s about buying goods downtown. Yes, the internet has that covered. It’s about eating, drinking, socializing and walking around in a pleasant place. And pleasant is not State St. these days. Big time homeless issue.

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