Asie Dumpling House parklet on the 500 block of State Street. | Credit: Erick Madrid (file)

A contingent of Santa Barbara residents and downtown business interests is asking the City Council to remove State Street’s parklets in order to reestablish a more even playing field among the corridor’s retailers and restaurateurs. Calling themselves Citizens for the Restoration of Community Equity, the group ― led by Riviera Bar owner Kevin Boss and architect Cassandra Ensberg ― says the move is necessary to codify State Street as a public space while the city’s Master Plan for the promenade is drafted. 

In an interview, Ensberg acknowledged how critical the city’s early pandemic measures were to keeping downtown businesses afloat. But two years later, a host of unintended consequences has emerged, she said. “Some businesses have done very well while others have not done so well,” Ensberg said of the proliferation of parklets among restaurants. “Some of them have more than doubled their seating,” she insisted. “It’s out of balance right now.”

By way of a solution, the group is suggesting the city clear the street of tables and chairs and make it easier for restaurant owners to secure sidewalk dining permits. They are also asking that the central bike lane be reconfigured into two lanes on either side of the road, which would make room for an open-air trolley and provide space for parades. Among the signatories to a letter sent by the group this week to the council are former Downtown Organization director Bill Collyer; former City Council member Dale Francisco; historian Erin Graffy; public relations executive John Davies; SIMA Corp president Jim Knell; and developer Barrett Reed.

Ensberg, who participated in the recent State Street charrettes, said the parklets as they appear today “feel very thrown-together.” She acknowledged good design takes time, but that’s why it’s important to wipe the slate clean now then let the Master Plan process play out with plenty of community buy-in and consensus. “This is the public realm,” she said. “It’s the right of way. It belongs to you; it belongs to me; it belongs to everyone. Let’s allow the discussion to happen and let democracy work.”

[This story was amended on May 29 to better reflect the composition of the Citizens for the Restoration of Community Equity group.]

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