Santa Barbara stopped in its tracks several times during the Thomas fire and flood, pauses that had immeasurable effects on businesses. A new survey to gauge those effects is ongoing, however, sponsored by several business groups to provide factual information to state and federal disaster officials.

“We kept having to tell the story of the impacts businesses were suffering,” said Ken Oplinger, head of Santa Barbara’s Chamber of Commerce. Thomas didn’t have the obvious widespread effects to commerce, as in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, he said, “but we lost the holiday shopping season. A lot of people were affected, particularly from a financial viewpoint.”

The City of Santa Barbara was able to react more quickly to business needs, delaying payment of the bed tax for hotels, Oplinger gave as an example. That meant small hotel properties could use the money to sustain their cash flow until business picked back up and they could better afford the tax. But this survey will allow state and federal agencies to see the effects of the highway shutdown, for instance. As well, the highway widening project will be looking at different waterway heights after flooding impacts are calculated. “SBCAG [Santa Barbara County Association of Governments] can use the survey data for emergency funding to advance that project more quickly,” Oplinger said.

UCSB’s Economic Forecast Project will be assembling the results, after the survey concludes in about 10 days, said Oplinger. It is sponsored by the chamber, Visit Santa Barbara, and Women’s Economic Ventures.


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