Credit: Erick Madrid (file)

Santa Barbara’s Downtown and Old Town Business Improvement Districts — a program that brings a quarter of a million dollars annually toward marketing and promotional events for downtown businesses — will move forward through 2022 with no major changes to the boundaries or rates charged to each business. The City Council unanimously approved the assessments after hearing a report from the previous year, and a yearly report from the executive director of the Downtown Organization of Santa Barbara, Robin Elander.

“Of course these past two years have been challenging to bring regular crowds downtown due to the pandemic,” Elander said. “But in some ways, we’ve been even more valuable to local businesses and organizations to help them creatively pivot and still connect with audiences.”

The $250,000 in fees from the businesses in the two districts — the Downtown district between Micheltorena and Ortega, and Old Town district from Ortega to Gutierrez — account for nearly a third of Downtown Santa Barbara’s projected $721,000 budget. Forty businesses submitted letters of protest about the annual fees, which vary depending on the business but generally range between $50 and $600. Brandon Beaudette, senior assistant to the city administrator, said that the 40 letters in response represent “just 2.7 percent” of businesses in the districts.

Elander’s annual report on Downtown Santa Barbara’s programs included a breakdown of the businesses’ top issues according to a 2021 survey and a review of the city’s ability to keep downtown vibrant despite COVID-19. According to the 2021 survey, COVID-19 instability was number four on the list of issues affecting downtown businesses. Number one was homelessness.

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“Because this is the number-one issue businesses say needs to be addressed, we make it a priority,” Elander said.

Part of this work is the “State Street Regional Action Plan on Homelessness,” a collaborative effort between the city, the Santa Barbara Alliance for Community Transformation (SBACT), DignityMoves, and City Net, among other organizations pushing to provide resources for homeless people in the downtown area.

There were also 41 new businesses opened in 2021, Elander said, including new local favorites like Secret Bao, Yona Redz, and Crush Bar & Tap.

More than anything, Elander is looking forward to the future. Downtown Santa Barbara is bringing back some in-person events that have taken a hiatus during the pandemic, including the annual awards breakfast at El Paseo Restaurant, to be held on Wednesday, April 27. 

For more information on the Downtown Organization of Santa Barbara, and for a full list of promotions and events, check the Downtown Santa Barbara website.

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