I have spent most of this weekend attempting to convey the entirety of my thoughts and feelings regarding the proposed development that is threatening to destroy a beloved local mainstay, The Press Room; a place that I and countless community members hold close to our hearts. I’ve read through dozens of emails and letters from other concerned residents about this development expressing anger, sadness, disillusionment, and frustration; it has been difficult to distill all of this down into a few short paragraphs, so I’ve chosen to speak from the heart and out of love. Love for the city I was born in, for the community I grew up with, and for the people and businesses that make Santa Barbara the incredibly special place that we all call home.
Communities are more than simply spaces humans reside in. They’re not the roads, the views, the weather; they are at the very core comprised of the people and businesses that make up the community and our home. The Press Room is the very essence of this ethos. Anchored by its love of the world’s game, soccer, The Press Room is an institution, far beyond the humble roots of a British inspired cocktail pub; a behemoth in a small package, much like Santa Barbara itself.
Owners James and Carol Rafferty opened their doors to the hearts (and bellies) of Santa Barbara over 25 years ago. From day one, The Press Room has been a diverse and vibrant safe space for people of all walks of life, of all races and persuasions, to congregate and enjoy not only each other’s company but the company of the entire Rafferty family and its staff. The Raffertys and their patrons have helped to contribute thousands of dollars every year to local charities and nonprofits. They provide a space for local artists to display work. They and the Press Room are Santa Barbara in microcosm. And much like the city it calls home, The Press Room faces economic forces and outside business interests that threaten to upend our peaceful coastal home. Santa Barbara has long distinguished itself from other communities by strategically and deliberately moderating its growth and protecting the character of The American Riviera.
Santa Barbara stands at a precipice, looking forward from a ledge to what our city, our community, will become. We’ve seen countless local businesses fail due to high rents, families forced to relocate because they simply could not afford their mortgage, and the very soul of what Santa Barbara “is” slowly disintegrate into something that is looking to be nothing more than an extension of greater Los Angeles.
To be clear, I recognize a property owner’s rights to be able to develop their land as they see fit, but it is beholden to city council to protect any and all important cultural, economic, and societal buildings or businesses that may not fit in one’s desire for profit. I realize the need for more housing in Santa Barbara, but affordable housing. This project appears to be nothing more than a land grab intended to displace local businesses to make way for exorbitantly high rent housing and in return, high profits for its owners. SIMA Corp, and by default its principal, Jim Knell, said he, “controls 500,000 square feet of retail and office space downtown from which no fewer than 300 merchants and business professionals rent.” I would like to ask the community of Santa Barbara how they think downtown looks these days. How many vacant businesses do you see on a day to day basis? Do we want to tear down and destroy the essence of what makes Santa Barbara to simply to erect high cost housing?
The Santa Barbara City Planning Commission is now presented with a real opportunity. An opportunity to potentially afford both the owner’s right to develop, the need for additional housing, and to protect a local and international landmark.
By insisting any development take into consideration the existing Press Room and business and insisting its survival in either the new development or by paid relocation included in any permitted development, city council will help not just one local family continue their American dream but rather ensure an entire community continue to be the vibrant and diverse ecosystem we all hope it to be. As responsible stewards of our community, The Santa Barbara City Planning Commission must do what is right for our community by protecting our iconic businesses, especially now.
With everything that is happening and wrong in the world, The Press Room remains as a small beacon of light and losing it will leave a dark hole in our hearts during a time when many of us hardly have any heart left to lose.
I encourage everyone to participate in the Planning Commission’s virtual meeting regarding this project on Thursday, September 3 at 1 p.m. Details can be found on the City of Santa Barbara’s website or here: https://www.santabarbaraca.gov/SBdocuments/Advisory_Groups/Planning_Commission/Current/00_Public_Notices/2020-09-03_September_3_2020_710_State_Street_Notice.pdf
If you are unable to attend, you may write an email to PCSecretary@SantaBarbaraCA.gov to have your comments entered into the public record. Please also consider adding your name to the list of more than 13,000 other signatories on a petition to save The Press Room here: https://www.change.org/p/support-saving-the-press-room-from-being-demolished-by-developers-santa-barbara
Lastly, I’d like to say that not all of these words are my own. I have included the thoughts and sentiments of many others to whom I, the Rafferty family, and The Press Room are forever grateful.