From left, Downtown Santa Barbara Executive Director Robin Elander, State Street Advisory Committee Chair Dave Davis, and councilmember and committee member Meagan Harmon at the May 24 meeting unveiling three options to redesign State Street | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

The grand public unveiling of the long-term future of State Street — or at least three proposed options thereof — got off to a bumpy start last Wednesday afternoon’s gathering of the State Street Advisory Committee and stayed that way for the better part of three hours. 

Given the scope, reach, and complexity of the project — a major redesign of street and sidewalks running from the 400 through the 1300 blocks of State Street — some confusion and turbulence was inevitable. But before the consultants hired by City Hall could even attempt to paint a clear picture of their State Street future-scapes, the discussion got sidetracked by the intense consternation over what’s happening there right now. Many speakers — some members of the public and others members of the 17-person State Street Advisory Committee appointed by the City Council — expressed heated concern that cyclists and e-bike riders had made State Street’s pedestrian promenade unsafe.

Some wanted bikes off State Street entirely and redirected to Anacapa and Chapala streets instead. When city staff stated this was infeasible from a traffic management perspective, some committee members expressed frustration they’d never been informed of this before, after eight months of meetings.

Lost in the back-and-forth was a clear understanding of the plans to re-engineer a nine-block-long, 80-foot-wide stretch of State, thus transforming downtown into “a new urban neighborhood” endowed with the near-infinite flexibility needed to respond to ever-shifting market realities. Would the surface of the new streetscape be one uniform flat expanse, or would there be curbs? Would there be cars? Shuttles? Parades? How would the new streetscape “activate” the gaping dead zone that now defines the 800 and 900 blocks? What would become of outdoor dining?

Kristen Sneddon | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“It did not go the way I expected,” said Councilmember Kristen Sneddon and a member of the Advisory Committee. “It did not go well.” 

Lost in the shuffle, she said, was the pedestrian mall and how the proposed changes would connect to Santa Barbara’s historic architectural tradition.  

Councilmember Meagan Harmon — also a member of the committee — agreed the meeting was “difficult, to be sure,” but given the “transformational” nature of the changes proposed, she said that’s not surprising. 

“We are aiming big,” she stated. “We’ve always known it wouldn’t be simple, and we’ve always known it wouldn’t be without a few bumps in the road.” 

The hope was to have sufficient consensus among committee members to have something to take public by Summer Solstice and more solidified by August. According to current timelines, the council would get its hands on the plan sometime early next year.


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