Credit: Erick Madrid (file)

State Street’s hodgepodge of parklets will soon get a more uniform look as Santa Barbara hammers out a permanent plan for the downtown promenade. The City Council voted Tuesday to enact design standards for the 44 outdoor spaces, mandating that — for the next two to five years of this “interim” period — new and existing structures must be stained or painted a dark hue that conforms with the historic district’s approved color palette. 

Prohibited will be enclosures or barriers that exceed 48 inches, and they must not be made of solid material, instead offering visibility through rails or slats. Also not allowed will be turf, carpet, or faux grass; neon or flashing lights; plastic, vinyl, or white-colored furniture; advertising, logos, or promotional materials; or mounted screens or projectors. The council also decreed as part of the interim ordinance that both new and existing parklets need to allow sufficient underside clearance for cleaning and stormwater flow.

The 5-2 vote, with Mayor Randy Rowse and Councilmember Eric Friedman dissenting, enacted a rent structure for the parklets conducting commercial activity in the public right of way. The fees will be based on square-foot usage and is expected to generate around $800,000 a year in revenue, a little more than enough to cover the city’s cost of maintaining and cleaning associated areas.

Until the State Street Master Plan is finalized, all parades will keep clear of State Street, the council said. Fire and police officials said the alternatives that have been used thus far — including Cabrillo, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, and Chapala streets — are, from a public safety perspective, actually preferable given their wider thoroughfares and better visibility. 

Representing opposite ends of the enthusiasm spectrum on the council were Kristen Sneddon and Randy Rowse, who cordially disagreed on the success of the State Street promenade thus far and where it ought to head. “What we’ve created so far is magic,” she said. “The community has made clear again and again that they want the promenade to continue.” Rowse, who fretted over parklet roofs potentially causing a safety hazard in a high-wind event, as well as amplified music blaring to and from individual frontages, accused the council of engaging in “circular conversations” over the interim plan. He suggested more discussion take place before the ordinance was passed and more thought should be given to reopening certain State Street blocks with few to no parklets to car traffic. “A lot of people want their Santa Barbara back,” he said.

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