Flightline Cafe in 2018 | Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

Numerous reports have recently been spoken about in regard to my recent court settlement with the City of Santa Barbara. The issue is related to my dream of opening Flightline. As some might know or recall, Flightline was going to be an aviation-themed restaurant on the physical grounds of the Santa Barbara Airport.

I had initially secured strong support and encouragement for this idea from the city’s governing airport administration. However, quite unfortunately, that support from the city eroded over time and precipitously to the point that the city was not going to honor the law and regulations that were in force, which resulted in our differences becoming irreconcilable, forcing a lengthy and costly lawsuit. The city airport administration’s ill thought actions illustrated that city administrations’ disregard for nourishing local businesses & employees as well as the opportunity for the city to earn rewarding tax income along with taking a blight on the landscape and turning it into a wonderful, entertaining, museum, that serves delicious food within an engaging atmosphere that honors the history of not only the innovation of aviation, but the brave, talented, pilots from Santa Barbra who risked or gave their lives to keep us free. An absolutely fun, colorful, and exciting location for the whole family to come and enjoy their tasty meals at a very reasonable price that engages kids on the history of their environment. That lawsuit was recently settled. The case was settled but not for what it should have been settled for, except that under the circumstances, I felt compelled to accept a settlement and move on to my next business adventure.

One issue most discussed, perhaps more than many other issues, when it comes to our city, is the current “state” of State Street. Most would agree that State Street is a historic and majestic corridor — past and currently home to more fantastic restaurants and shops, and other commercial venues than I can list in this limited space. Suffice it to say, that for those working in the hospitality industry or the visitor-serving sector, having a vibrant and dynamic commercial vibe up and down State Street — from Cabrillo to Mission Street — and beyond, is a vital goal.

The current economic condition of our downtown isn’t acceptable for many, myself included. In fact, the many empty stores reflect an apparent lack of support, commitment and effort on the part of the past Administration to revitalize what was once, a regal and engaging commercial corridor to what is now, except for a few bright spots, a downtrodden vestibule of the homeless and challenged. The once bright light of Santa Barbara’s State Street is now at its lowest.

Despite the disappointment and the frustration of seeing such a great idea like Flightline not come to fruition, and the lack of political leadership at the time, perhaps things could have been different. But despite all that, I remain willing and eager to work with our city’s leaders and the administration to recreate a soaring spirit of free enterprise in Santa Barbara. Relative to pretty much any other city of our size anywhere in the United States, Santa Barbara’s comparative advantages are numerous. Our weather alone makes us a world-class destination. Our natural scenery and beauty allow us to capture the imaginations of travelers throughout the world. Our proximity to Los Angeles, the wine country to our immediate north, and of course our spectacular ocean, beaches, parks, museums, and even our system of hiking trails are second to none.

The vitality of State Street is indeed a priority of the utmost urgency. And it must be restored through a new commitment by the current governing administration and locals coming together. I include myself in this, as well as, those interested in investing in exciting new establishments that serve our wonderful community and, very importantly, and perhaps most significantly, the irreplaceable support and strategic engagement from the City, Chamber of Commerce, and Downtown Organization. An iron triangle, if you will, that will include downtown property owners, merchants, the City, and our nonprofit partners in the advocacy sector, should be created and empowered post haste.

So then, why don’t we realize our full potential? Why are we seeing stores go out of business and “for lease” signs go up as often as signs for yard sales? The answer: past leadership failures. It really isn’t more complicated than that. And I say this not to indict anyone more than I’m indicting myself. This is what I do; after all, this is what I love to do. And yet I have not succeeded these past few years in fulfilling my full dream of improving our city one successful business and restaurant at a time. I get it. Our society today is more complex. So many issues pull us and the local government in a thousand different directions. From the cost of living to keeping our families safe and healthy, managing the competing challenges of work, kids, and paying attention to civic affairs. Even dealing with the implacable issues such as homeless, and crime, can drain substantial resources. All of these real-life concerns are constantly pushing and pulling at us.

Expecting the economic vitality of our downtown is only one issue among many. Having said that, I believe unequivocally everything I’ve said here is true, I also believe with every fiber of my being that a thriving downtown retail and commercial area, one that meets the high standards of the people of Santa Barbara, will help transform the overall quality of life and in ways that are immeasurable. The multipliers, not financial multipliers, but economic multipliers, would be tremendous and beget other great and tremendous things, each of which would beget still more. This is the power of success, and it is how success breeds more success. And the more successful we are as a city and civil community, the better and hopefully more purpose driven our lives can be.

I want to thank the good people of Santa Barbara for all the support you’ve given me as I’ve been out there doing my part and playing my role to make Santa Barbara a special place. I have no enmity in my heart for anyone due to the lawsuit or the circumstances leading up to it. Instead, I am standing by, ready and willing to work with everyone and anyone to help change the negative trends we are witnessing on State Street. You have my promise and commitment to do exactly that until I have nothing left in me to give. Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all my friends and customers.


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