Report on Santa Barbara Downtown Leading to Economic Development Director

Release Date: July 25,2019

Large crowd turns out for City Council discussion of recommendations from Kosmont Companies

A large crowd turned out Thursday for a Santa Barbara City Council discussion.
A large crowd turned out Thursday for a Santa Barbara City Council discussion of a consultant’s report on how to jump-start the downtown financial environment centered on State Street. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)
 

 

Santa Barbara plans to hire an economic development director to help lift the city out of the retail doldrums

That was one of the few outcomes of the long-awaited Kosmont Report and Thursday's special City Council meeting, which stretched a little more than four hours.

Although the council took no formal vote, the seven members supported the idea as a way to jumpstart State Street's economy.

More than 150 people packed the City Council chamber and the Room 15 overflow room. 

The report was largely a repeat of what business leaders have been saying for years: Santa Barbara's permitting process is too rigid and more housing is needed downtown.

Still, it was an outside voice confirming what locals have been saying. 

"What you are facing right now is not going to be fixed in a short period of time," said Ken Hira, president of Kosmont Companies. "There is vitality that can be achieved on State Street. Is Amazon the enemy? I don't know. I don't think so, but have they caused significant change in how people consume."

The $84,000, 87-page Kosmont Report recommends the city "provide easy permits for temporary pop-up users, facilitate infill housing or live/work space in back of vacant buildings along State Street, and incentivize a blend of residential, office, and hotel reuse of vacant commercial buildings."

The city should also facilitate development of new workforce housing downtown, including microunits between Chapala and Anacapa streets, the report states.

The city, according to the report, should allow amplified music after 10 p.m., and the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District should expand bus services for State Street workers and visitors. 

In addition, the city needs to increase special events and "consider a concept of monthly or more frequent community events in downtown."

The next steps include hiring the economic development professional; waiving outdoor dining rental fees, and implementing "an organizational workflow study for the planning and permitting process."

Ken Hira, president of consultant Kosmont Companies, addresses the Santa Barbara City Council Ken Hira, president of consultant Kosmont Companies, addresses the Santa Barbara City Council regarding a report his company created on how to jump-start the downtown financial environment centered on State Street. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Some members of the City Council also expressed support for closing a couple blocks of State Street for a pedestrian promenade.

Sharon Byrne, who lives about four blocks from State Street, said the report should have paid more attention to Generation Xers, not just Gen Zers and millennials. 

"We like cool stuff too," Byrne said. "It's not all about the millennials."

She said she recently performed goat yoga downtown, and suggested that the city create more outdoor health and fitness activities. 

Byrne also said it’s time for the city to fix the homeless problem, instead of just coping with it.

"It is my neighborhood I care about it a lot," Byrne said. "I want to see it turn around."

Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon supports housing downtown as long as it doesn't disrupt the city's historic buildings and landmarks. 

"It really needs to be surgically placed," Sneddon said. 

She said that Santa Barbara has a lot of large, vacant retail spaces that could be used for housing. 

"We have these big cavernous places that are really ripe for housing," Sneddon said. 

City Administrator Paul Casey joked that the council should form a committee to discuss the report's findings. After wild laughter from the room, he said: "We are ready to act as well. We will go with all due speed."

Many of Thursday's speakers urged Casey to hire Nina Johnson, senior assistant to the city administrator, to serve as the economic development director. Johnson has been working closely with the business community during the past few years. 

Councilman Randy Rowse supports the idea of an economic development director, but urged Casey to hire wisely. 

"I don't know what that job looks like," Rowse said. "I sure don't want to hamper him with a timeline per se. This is something that is going to be really important. We don't choose an individual. We don't hire people. If this is so important to everyone in the room, let's not do it in a hurried manner.

"Let's find the right person. I am not ready to slap a label on just anyone."

Councilman Eric Friedman said the city should take its time in hiring an economic development director. 

"I don't want to rush," Friedman said. "We are looking at the next 20 to 25 years of downtown, and when you rush you make mistakes."

Jarrett Gorin, principal of Vanguard Planning, said the report was "helpful" and reaffirming.

"I am glad we are all here talking about this again," Gorin said. "We know what the problems are. It is tempting to blame outside influences like Amazon and high rents. What about the problems the city can solve without having to address outside factors that the city can't control?"

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.

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