State Street Promenade rendering | Credit: MIG

As chair and vice-chair of the State Street Advisory Committee supporting the development of a master plan for the future of downtown, we’ve spent much of the last year listening to thousands of Santa Barbarans who share an aspiration to revitalize the center of our town. Through our public outreach — meetings, surveys, forums, workshops, and countless individual conversations — we’ve heard your appreciation for where you live and your passion for making it the best it can be. Thank you for showing up and speaking up!

This moment is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to rethink our downtown. We have the chance to reimagine downtown and build on all we’ve learned during the pandemic-related closure. Early in 2024, our committee will be tasked with recommending a master plan proposal for the future of downtown to the Santa Barbara City Council. As we move toward that deadline, we share below some of the top things we’ve been hearing from the public in our process.

Cars:  At least part of downtown State Street should remain closed to cars. A strong majority of locals like the absence of cars on State Street. This was the strongest finding of our survey of 6,000 Santa Barbarans, 79 percent of whom expressed the desire for maintaining a car-free part of State Street in the future. Survey after survey have yielded the same results. Our committee will be considering how many blocks, and which blocks, should remain closed to private vehicles.

Housing:  We have a long downtown main street corridor, and more commercial space, retail and office, than is needed for the foreseeable future. Our area’s biggest space need is housing, which currently makes up less than 5 percent of the total square footage in our downtown master plan area: Sola Street to the 101 Freeway, and Chapala to Anacapa Streets. As more building space is converted to housing, downtown Santa Barbara has the chance to evolve into a desirable urban neighborhood with more people present at all times of day, creating a new source of vibrancy for the area.

Districts:  There is a great variation along the closed State Street corridor. There is our beautiful Arts District toward the northern end of our project area, and there’s a thriving Entertainment District of sorts near the southern end. In between, we have our City Center area that is, for now, less active due to the loss of shoppers and office workers in and around Paseo Nuevo. Many have suggested we treat these areas differently and support them to evolve their own separate identities.

City Center:  With a loss of department stores and office workers in recent years, downtown Santa Barbara has lost some of its sense of purpose. Many have spoken of their desire to see downtown regain its centrality in civic life here through the development of focal points of civic activity — e.g., stages, art installation areas, play and activity areas, public/farmers markets — that could be programmed in partnership with local arts and civic organizations. In our outreach activities, a good deal of interest has been shown in focusing new activities in the central part of our project area, integrating eventual redevelopment plans for Paseo Nuevo and De la Guerra Plaza.

Safety & Sanitation:  Many Santa Barbarans have told us they love downtown State Street, and they feel a vital energy flowing through the current car-free promenade. Others have said they don’t feel safe or drawn to the area — due to issues of cleanliness, lighting, homelessness, accessibility, and a small minority of cyclists that ride exceedingly fast. For downtown to become a thriving city center for more of Santa Barbara’s residents, each of these safety issues must be tangibly addressed in our planning and operations.

Bicycles:  This has been the most divisive issue we’ve encountered in our outreach. We’ve heard loud and clear that some people — including many seniors and people with disabilities — want an area of the State Street Promenade where bicycle riding is not allowed. We’ve also heard from others — including many younger people and families — who want to experience State Street on a bicycle. The question is complicated by new kinds of electric motorized bikes that go very fast. Our committee has been in discussions with the city about where and how bikes can be routed and integrated safely into our downtown of the future.

City Process Reform & Economic Development:  The biggest investment in a more vital downtown center will need to come from private property owners and businesses. We’ve heard from many that certain city rules and review processes get in the way of opportunities to convert buildings and spaces to new uses. To increase the vibrancy of downtown, the city must be proactive in support of a broad mix of private revitalization efforts. This should include streamlining and speeding up city review processes.

Beauty:  Santa Barbara is known far and wide as a beautiful city. State Street is part of that — with its Spanish-style architecture, mature street trees, paseo network, and views of the mountains. Many see this master plan process as an opportunity to build on that reputation, a chance to enhance downtown’s sense of place, history, and celebration. This should include changes to street and outdoor dining design, which were not fully thought through as part of the emergency closure. Now we have the chance to get it right.

Later this summer, the State Street Advisory Committee will review amended designs for the future of State Street, and we will be seeking public feedback once again. Please stay engaged with us as our State Street Advisory Committee moves towards bringing its master planning process to a close early in 2024. Our hope is to recommend a plan based on a vision that most Santa Barbarans get excited about, and that takes advantage of this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

For more information about our State Street master planning process, please visit our “Create State” website at


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