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Members of the Central Coast Section of the American Planning Association, in town for the California Chapter’s Annual Conference, toured Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.

Paul Wellman

Members of the Central Coast Section of the American Planning Association, in town for the California Chapter’s Annual Conference, toured Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone.


Action Down in the Funk Zone


COVERING THE WATERFRONT: Who says nothing ever happens down in Santa Barbara’s Funk Zone, where boom often turns to bust?

On Monday, I joined a group of California planners walking the helter-skelter conglomeration of unplanned but lively businesses and found that the long-closed old Californian Hotel is on schedule to be rebuilt and reopened by November 30, 2016 — or else.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” one dubious former city planner told me.

Barney Brantingham

The Californian is a key part of the much-maligned La Entrada hotel-timeshare project, but for now, it’s so unstable and a public hazard that the back end is due to be razed. It’s so dangerous that the fire department won’t even allow its people inside, Paul Casey, city community development director, told me.

While the late Fess Parker’s 150-room Cabrillo Boulevard hotel is still just a hole in the ground, the news this week is that his required youth hostel on East Montecito Street has a new owner who plans to finish the place and open it by May, according to Casey.

The Californian’s façade would remain as part of the controversial, long-delayed, multi-million-dollar La Entrada project. La Entrada went bankrupt under Bill Levy, and its new L.A. owners must finish the project and reopen the hotel by November 2016 or lose their permits, Casey said.

If the permits okayed by a prior City Council actually do expire, it would occasion great celebration by critics of the development of 114 hotel rooms and nine time-shares, plus commercial space.

Public improvements, including narrowing State Street to two lanes as it approaches Cabrillo Boulevard, must be finished by next September. All other permits must be pulled by November 2014, and the owner, Next Century Associates, then has two years to finish the project.

Meanwhile, up on the Riviera (by no means the Funk Zone), El Encanto Hotel — its reconstruction in hiatus for the past couple of years is “going gangbusters” now that all permits are finally in place and the Orient-Express owners are shooting for a spring 2013 reopening, Casey told me.

Fess was required to finish the 100-room hostel before opening his approved 150-room East Cabrillo oceanfront hotel. But with no money in sight for the project, it looks like the unidentified nonprofit that bought the partly finished hostel will open it long before any guests sleep by the sea in Parker Two (Parker One being Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort).

The 16-block helter-skelter Funk Zone, which runs generally between State and Garden Streets from Cabrillo up to Montecito Street, is beloved by many as an affordable haven for small businesses, but no doubt violates all kinds of golden rules of sound planning. About 1,200 members of the American Planning Association’s California chapter, which convened earlier this week at Fess Parker’s DoubleTree Resort, are taking a look at what goes in Santa Barbara County.

“The Funk Zone is Santa Barbara’s hip, cool, and edgy side of town,” Santa Barbaran Jay Higgins wrote in a get-acquainted piece for the planners. “Some say it used to be Santa Barbara’s Cannery Row, with a long history of marine, industrial, and manufacturing uses.

“Now it’s filled with an eclectic mix of artists, condo projects, museums, surfboard shapers, and skilled craft workers, as well as locally-owned shops, art studios, galleries, and wine-tasting rooms.”

John Sloan and his Again Books, a cavern jammed with odds and ends of lore, are gone, the spot taken by Larry Jones and his Mermaid’s Chest antique shop. “I remember him being surrounded by a tower of books, the radio blasting,” Larry said.

Next door, Jim O’Mahoney runs a beautiful surf museum at 16½-C Helena Avenue, full of classy boards, clippings, and memorabilia.

In the 1990s, a boom loomed when a huge aquarium, museum, and marketplace were proposed. It would have forever changed the character of the Funk Zone, Higgins said. But the boom went bust.

Yet there’s new life down there. There are now 10 wineries and tasting rooms. I dropped in at Municipal Winemakers, which just opened at the former Divers Den spot, 28 Anacapa Street.

John Becker was at the counter at the Blueline Stand Up Paddle Surf shop on East Mason Street. “Car Color Craft paint and body shop was here for 60-plus years. I grew up on this street. There used to be barbecues right on the street.”

Memories glow, and the future burns bright, but there’s no sign of the Funk Zone losing its off-beat charm.

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Barney Brantingham can be reached at barney@independent.com or 805-965-5205. He writes online columns throughout the week and a print column on Thursdays.

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