State Street, Santa Barbara, in pre-pandemic days | Credit: Overburn -

On Tuesday, the City of Santa Barbara collected ballots from more than 300 landlords who own more than 540 parcels in the 37 square blocks at the center of town. It was an historic moment. The vote was asking the property owners if they would agree to form a “community business improvement district,” and to voluntarily tax themselves to help fund the $2.2 million needed to make the downtown cleaner and safer for all.

The results showed that the majority of property owners were willing to help foot the bill that would ultimately help all of downtown.

“Something that makes Santa Barbara very unique is that we know how to come together,” “There’s been so much division, and this really made everybody realize that we’re in this together,” said Councilmember Alejandra Gutierrez. “Finally, there’s community again.”

Downtown Santa Barbara Organization Executive Director Robin Elander called it a “milestone.” Kristen Miller, President and CEO of the South Coast Chamber of Commerce, said it was “a goal the chamber has been championing for years.” 

The “Downtown Santa Barbara Community Business Improvement District” will charge each of the parcels an annual assessment based on linear footage, building square footage, and lot size. Some would pay a few hundred dollars a year, while the largest parcel would pay more than $133,000. The city itself owns 26 properties in the district, and would pay about $179,000 worth of assessments.

In the first year, the program would fund an estimated $2.2 million budget to be used for sidewalk safety and cleanliness ($1.45 million), district identity and placemaking ($308,000), and administration ($330,000). These would be in addition to the services the city would continue to provide such as tree trimming, public safety programs, and road repairs.

After hearing from a few homeowners who lived in the district, City Council made a last-minute revision, exempting the six residential parcels, as long as they were all being used as owner-occupied single-family residences.

The City Council unanimously agreed to move forward and form the improvement district starting next year.

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