Availing itself of special emergency powers triggered by the COVID pandemic, the Santa Barbara City Council voted to extend the State Street promenade and give special dispensations to downtown businesses to operate on public streets and sidewalks for one more year to aid their prospects for economic recovery. Initially, the plan had been to extend the promenade for six months, but commercial landlord Jim Knell of SIMA Corporation called that “short sighted,” arguing merchants needed more time to plan their investments with more certainty.
Some councilmembers disliked “the hodgepodge” of parklet designs, others worried about the interface between pedestrians and bicycle riders, and some fretted about the new electric-bike-share program on State Street. But they all agreed that City Administrator Paul Casey needed to work out a compromise between the needs of Ensemble Theatre on West Victoria Street and the neighboring merchants.
Casey also needed maximum flexibility in negotiating with business operations that have fallen behind on their rents to the city. Of the 16 businesses now leasing space along the city’s waterfront, nine reportedly have gotten behind in their rent. Initially, Casey had proposed a cap on rent forgiveness of no more than 5 percent. The council voted solidly against imposing any maximum cap.