Mayor Randy Rowse | Credit: Courtesy

It’s spring in Santa Barbara, following some eventful winter weather, and the traditional way City Hall marks this time of year is by celebrating Budget Season. This year promises to be challenging, as some very difficult choices will need to be made to balance our finances. Our local economy is based largely on hospitality and is truly “solar-powered,” meaning that inclement weather really affects nearly everyone’s revenues. Every department has been tasked with pitching in to make the numbers work, so we’ll see how we look when the dust settles, but staff have been remarkable in their efforts to make services continue uninterrupted. In any case, I remain very optimistic about a prosperous upcoming visitor season.

There has been solid progress on our efforts to address the issue of our unsheltered population. Senior Administrative Assistant Barbara Andersen is assigned to the coordination of outreach services, which have now engaged in extended service hours, and we are rolling out a property storage program. We are currently working on a “navigation center” to help get more folks off of the streets and directed to the appropriate services. Barbara is also running the team to address the escalating issues surrounding illegal street vending. Our Sustainability and Resilience Department leads our Encampment Response Team, and our Homeless Response Directory was created in partnership with SBACT. Along with our homeless service contractor CityNet we have created new and robust response mechanisms that help get immediate attention to those in need. Barbara is your best contact, available by email at, along with Elizabeth Stotts, Homeless Programs Analyst at Further information and phone numbers are available on our city website.

We have partnered with the county in a program called “Dignity Moves,” which is a downtown “bridge housing” project that I was highly cynical about … at first. Through excellent on-site management and constant vigilance, these 35 units have provided new hope and some successful transitions for folks who have otherwise been on the streets for an extended time. My initial skepticism turned out to be largely unfounded.

Our collective efforts are carefully tailored around respecting the rights and dignity of all, which include the rights of all of us who expect a clean, safe, and inviting city. This change in strategies is overdue, and our work continues daily. 

Housing. An ongoing priority for workforce, low-income affordable, and market rate supply. While Santa Barbara enjoys a relatively high percentage of housing units that are deed-restricted or subsidized due to very effective programs like our Housing Authority, the demand remains painfully high. Supplying the desired types and amounts of such housing is a complex balance of private sector incentives, regulations, and subsidies. Discouraging small landlords through onerous restrictions can result in reducing the last vestiges of at, or below, market rents available, and invite outside investors to speculate on real estate opportunities. Incentivizing new units through density bonuses and process streamlining will result in the improved opportunities for renters to stay and work in our city.

Along with that is our ability to fully gauge and regulate the vacation rental phenomenon in Santa Barbara. The efforts we have initiated are intended to free up some units that are used for transient occupancy, but will also allow us to explore ways that some city zones and owner-occupied residential units can utilize their property in a more reasonable way. While no new laws have been created to address this situation, I believe that a functional compromise is possible.

Last and far from least is our downtown business corridor and the future of State Street. Our consultant group, planning staff, and the State Street Advisory Committee are preparing to unveil the proposed possibilities for public perusal. Other areas are bouncing back, and it is very much our turn to fill in the vacant storefronts and get back to business. Like many of you, I have been frustrated with the stagnant situation on downtown State Street. So, as much as anyone, I look forward to the published reports and the menu of choices that the committee and planners have worked diligently to produce. It’s very much time for us to move toward our future. 

We may not be perfect, but, despite our best efforts, we still live in the best city on the planet!


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