Leave the Parklets Be
Open Letter to Santa Barbara City Mayor and Councilmembers
You have an agenda item coming up June 22, agenda item 16, that could remove parklets in July, or impose onerous modifications on them.
Please avoid doing this. It is the most business unfriendly thing you could do right now.
Thanks to the quick actions of Anthony Wagner, and the blessing of the state, restaurants saved themselves, and you, from their bankruptcy and permanent closure by expanding into the street. Best thing you ever did. Restaurants shoved out money they didn’t have to build structures, install lighting and outdoor heaters, just to stay alive. The parklets are immensely popular and have created a terrific new vibe in areas much in need of revitalizing.
Please be smart right now and let a good thing stand. Your business community has been hit by three mega disasters in three years: the Thomas Fire, then the biggest wildfire in California history, which killed pretty much all restaurant business December 2017, the very time they count on; the Thomas Debris Flow that shut down the tourism industry and stranded workers who needed to use the 101; and now the pandemic.
Surely you can find it within your hearts to extend some grace to those who’ve had it rather hard the past three years.
You need to think with disaster recovery heads. First Rule: Do whatever you can to minimize economic disruption, meaning especially do not disrupt recovery when it’s underway. Reopening has propelled labor rates higher due to a lack of workers — a very good thing for low-paid workers here. It’s kept businesses going that send you sales tax revenues — a good thing. It’s crowding the streets so they’re less liable to being taken over by people experiencing homelessness colonizing public sidewalks — a good thing. You have a robust recovery trying to happen — you should get out of the way and let it run.
Don’t waste your time on parklets right now. You should be focusing your attention on the homeless explosion, fire season danger, and truly important issues. Just like your discussions on FAR [floor area ratio] for State Street and various housing developments, the state intends to override you anyway with this year’s housing legislation. They’re going to do the same thing re parklets.
Senate Bill 314, introduced by Senator Wiener of San Francisco, just passed the Senate (thank you, Senator Limon!) and will likely clear the Assembly next month, as it has an urgency clause. The state intends to give businesses a one-year minimum extension on parklets and alcohol licenses to keep serving outdoors, dating from when the COVID emergency order lifts (it hasn’t yet). The bill also makes it simpler for bars and restaurants to share their spaces with pop-ups, with each other, and with non-alcohol-serving businesses — which allows a retail area to be shared by multiple entities, lowering costs for all, with continued alcohol service from the licensee.
So whatever you’re planning to do, the state has bigger plans, and will override yours.
You can read the text of SB314 here: https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB314