State Street is open for business. | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

Anthony Wagner, public engagement officer for the City of Santa Barbara’s Police Department and new crisis communication czar for City Administrator Paul Casey, announced he hand-delivered 45 sidewalk liquor dispensation applications from Santa Barbara restaurant owners to officers with the California Alcohol Beverage Control offices in Ventura. Should these applications be approved, Wagner said, it would enable the applicants to serve beer, wine, or spirits on the sidewalks in front of their businesses and parking lots adjoining or behind them to their customers. Wagner states these businesses represent about 750 employees. 

Earlier in the week, Wagner held a webinar to educate applicants on how to fill out the state application forms in such a way that they were not rejected for technical and procedural issues. He stated 99 businesses were represented at that webinar, several from Santa Maria and the Santa Ynez Valley. In addition, Wagner stated, he later met with representatives of 45 businesses to review their applications to ensure they were properly filled out. Many, he said, needed revisions. After helping the owners make these changes — and collecting $100 application fees required by the state ABC — Wagner stated he drove the applications down Thursday afternoon. No other city, he claimed, was providing the same degree of “red-carpet treatment” to its businesses in the time of COVID. 

For businesses hoping to expand their ability to sell the same types of alcoholic drinks to patrons outside their establishments as inside, Wagner said, the state is requiring the establishment of clear barriers and lines of demarcation so that people walking on sidewalks are aware that the public spaces have been effectively privatized for the time being. Stanchions and ropes, he said, qualify. He noted that in the wake of COVID, there’s been a run on stanchions and that supplies have become scarce. “It’s kind of like toilet paper,” he noted. 

In a desperate effort to keep State Street economically alive, City Hall has blocked off traffic from the 500 to the 1300 blocks of State Street, creating a de facto pedestrian mall. By allowing businesses to serve food and drinks on sidewalk space that would otherwise not be available, the hope is that operators can draw enough customers to remain economically viable while maintaining the six-foot social-distancing requirements demanded by the state and the county’s Public Health Department. 

As far as enforcement goes, he said, “We’ll be using our words. We’ll be delivering a light message educating them as to what’s expected.” 

Although State Street has been the clear focus of these emergency efforts, the emergency orders opening up sidewalks, parking lots, and what are known as “parklets” to expanded service apply citywide. Wagner expressed optimism that ABC officers could process the applications by as soon as this Friday. “We are thinking optimistic thoughts,” he said.

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