At the most recent City Council meeting on the future of State Street, it became clear that a majority of our council does not view retail as an important part of the downtown State Street experience. This is a slap in the face to the hundreds of retail workers that call Santa Barbara home, as well as to the many small merchants who have poured their life into an industry that, no, is not “dead because of Amazon.”

In place of making decisions about the future of downtown based on hard data about storefront vacancies, accessibility to all age groups, historical trends, business patterns, or professional perspectives, the application of undefined and vague concepts such as “togetherness” and “community” were repeatedly used to justify serious decisions about the use of public space. Legitimate concerns about who actually is able to access this nebulous State Street “community” were never addressed.

The only data referenced by multiple councilors came from online polls, a category of evidence universally considered to be untrustworthy by data scientists and professional pollsters. Shame on the council members partaking in such meaningless, vague rhetoric and using it to justify a lack of coherent vision that fairly balances the perspectives of all types of workers, business owners, and community members. Shame on their lack of interest in understanding the joyful and bonding role retail spaces hold for many in this community. Shame on their refusal to provide any hard data about the potential fiscal success, or lack thereof, of maintaining such a long-closed street.

Though brick-and-mortar retail streets thrive all over Southern California, this industry will continue to die in Santa Barbara if it is not given actual consideration by our citizens and elected leaders. While the latter have seemingly abandoned us, I encourage our community not to do so by demanding accountability, clarity, and facts from those elected to represent us.

Lisa Reifel owns Lewis & Clark on State Street.


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