The Da Vinci Dog and the Canine Code

BASTA: Okay, I admit it: Long before
construction even started, I’ve had it in for the monumentally
silly new parking garage that’s recently erupted behind the
Granada Theatre. It’s been explained to me a
million times that this aesthetically overwrought and
hyperventilated, five-story, $24.5 million parking lot is the
second coming of sliced bread and Swiss
cheese — not to mention the salvation of upper State Street — but
such arguments fail to penetrate the perimeter of my cranial fog.
The way I see it, upper State — the stretch between Carrillo and
Sola — has been thriving very nicely without divine intervention of
massive publicly financed construction projects. I know that $50
million is regarded as mere chump change in some quarters, but I
have a nagging sense it could be better spent on 1,001 other
projects — like more, better, and faster mass transit, as just one
example. Naturally, my festering attitude is ideologically rooted
in the wildly improbable. I think it makes no sense to coddle our
cars so extravagantly when we should be planning for a rational
future — at least where the automobile is concerned — rather than
an obviously insane past. As such, building the Granada Garage is
akin to installing a wine cellar in your basement before checking
into the Betty Ford Center to dry out.

Architecturally, the Granada Garage contributes to Santa
Barbara’s obsessive-compulsive Edifice Rex
, in which everything built henceforth must rival
the Courthouse in both splendor and grandeur. Functionally, the lot
is hamstrung with serious traffic flow problems. The engineers who
designed it failed to include an entry lane for the lot’s Anacapa
Street entrance, an omission that will generate gratuitous traffic
agitation, rear-end collisions, whiplash, and all the attendant
lawsuits. But all that’s old news. What we’re seeing now is how the
presence of the new parking lot will accelerate the
Guccification of State Street, an upscale blight
already well underway.

Everybody knows that Isaac Newton postulated
the first law of physics: If we build it, they will come. And when
that happens, Santa Barbara landlords will charge higher rents.
Although Newton didn’t live long enough to see that happen, this
phenomenon has been codified by subsequent physicists as the
Second Law of Nature. With the arrival of a new
lot with a carrying capacity of 550 cars, landlords reckon there
will be more foot traffic. If their tenants are benefiting, so
should they, and rents are going up. The first and most obvious
victim of this is the Santa Barbara Sandwich
on the 1200 block of State Street, which for my
money delivered the best and biggest sandwiches for the lowest
price in town. The owner, whom I knew only as
Roger, was famous for three things: He wore shorts
no matter how cold or wet it was outside; he remembered the first,
middle, and last names of every single customer he ever served; and
he worked so hard people standing in line could work up a
second-hand sweat just watching him. Roger took over a location
that most real estate agents had written off as haunted because so
many businesses had failed there. Roger made the place hum. It was
always packed. Now, after 10 years of hustling, smiling, and
memorizing, Roger’s gone without a trace. Hope you got kissed,
Roger, because we all got screwed.

The next domino to fall is Alpha Thrift,
located on the 1100 block of State Street right across from the
Museum of Art. Alpha’s 10-year lease is with Jim
of SIMA Corp., and they won’t be
renewing. Affable but disciplined, Knell plays real estate like a
contact sport; he extracts market value from his properties with an
efficiency that borders on ruthless. As a result, he owns and
manages more downtown real estate than anyone else. In the board
game Santa Barbopoly, Knell has long been the
reigning King of Marvin Gardens. Knell explained
that Alpha Thrift simply could not afford State Street rent
anymore. He acknowledged Alpha was facing a rent increase had it
stayed, but protested, “It wasn’t that much of a rent increase.”
But he also said Alpha was looking at a 30 percent rent increase.
He said that in the 10 years, its rent had doubled. I understand
that among thrift store connoisseurs, Alpha Thrift was regarded as
a little pricey, especially its clothes. Maybe so, but I’ve bought
many a $5 pair of shorts there that would have cost $60 elsewhere.
And besides, the proceeds went for a good cause — Alpha
 — which works with developmentally disabled
clients right here in town. Alpha has been on State Street since
1967; its previous location was at State and Ortega, now the site
of that ex-restaurant, Ma Dolce Vita.

Maybe it was inevitable that Alpha would be pushed off State
Street sooner or later. Maybe it’s not entirely fair to blame its
demise, however tangentially, on accelerated market forces
unleashed by the Granada Garage. But who said life was fair? The
fact is, other thrift stores are having a hard time surviving Santa
Barbara’s boon times. RADD, located on lower
State — well beyond the Granada’s sphere of influence — is also
about to fold. Maybe there’s not enough room in this town for a
couple of thrifts and all the new art galleries sprouting up,
hawking overpriced paintings of whales, grizzly bears, and other
wildlife. And if the poor find themselves excluded by the
downtown’s dramatic demographic tilt, I say let them eat $400

But this story has a happy ending. Rather than watch Alpha
Thrift swirl down the toilet bowl of oblivion, the Hutton
intervened. It actually bought Alpha Thrift
brand-new digs out in Goleta by Hollister and Kellogg. The new
space, the site of a former furniture store, is way bigger than
Alpha’s State Street site, and the rent will be roughly one-third
what Alpha currently pays. And with such low rents, one would hope
that Alpha can drop its prices. Santa Barbara’s loss will be
Goleta’s gain, and presumably Alpha Thrift will live happily ever
after. Assuming, of course, no one gets the smart idea of building
a new parking garage next door.  — Nick


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