Santa Barbara City Council Votes to Continue Accelerate Permit Program Indefinitely

Release Date: September 20,2018

Program was created a year ago to expedite permitting and help business owners occupy commercial spaces more quickly on State Street

storefrontThe Santa Barbara City Council voted Tuesday to continued the Accelerate permit program indefinitely. The program started a year ago to help State Street businesses get through the city permitting process faster.  (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Although the rate of State Street vacancies is the same today as a year ago, members of the Santa Barbara City Council on Tuesday lent their support to the year-old Accelerate permit program, saying that it is just one part of the solution to downtown's retail woes.

The goal of the Accelerate program is to expedite the city’s design review and permit plan check processes without compromising the quality of the final design, and to help property and business owners improve and occupy commercial tenant spaces more quickly. 

“Was it perfect at the beginning, no, nothing is perfect, but there has been a big improvement,” said State Street property owner Ray Mahboob at Tuesday's meeting. “There’s a lot of good news out there. It is not all gloomy and bad.”

The vacancy rate on State Street today, between Cabrillo Boulevard and Sola Street, for first-floor retail storefronts, is 11 percent, the same rate as August 2017, when the program started, according to the city. In addition to that area, the Accelerate program applies to Coast Village Road commercial properties.

Santa Barbara City Council members on Tuesday voted unanimously to extend the Accelerate program indefinitely. 

As the downtown area has struggled with vacant retail spaces, some property owners and business owners have pointed the finger at the city for its extensive permitting process.

Among the members of the public who criticized the city at Tuesday's meeting was Jim Knell, who owns about 450,000 square feet of commercial property on State Street. 

“It’s a battle to do business with you people,” Knell said. “You don’t cooperate.”

He said Santa Barbara needs to be more flexible with the requirements when new businesses try to open up shop in older buildings. 

“These buildings are 100 years old and in some cases they can’t comply with some of the issues that they are made to comply with,” Knell said. 

He said that the planning department needs to be more creative. Knell also said that planners too often are looking for problems with buildings to find violations. 

“It’s an aggressve approach to regulation and the more regulations you have without mitigations you are going to have problems,” Knell said. “It has to improve.”

Property owner Richard Berti accused the city of not being business-friendly.

“I think things are too slow and I do think they do come on our properties to look for trouble,” Berti said. “I am about to do things without a permit, I am tired of waiting.”

In August, a group of business and property owners gave the city a list of recommendations regarding improvements to its permit process, and in response, the City Council decided to hire a consultant to dive deeper into the issues. 

At Tuesday's meeting, Councilman Gregg Hart told Knell and Berti that the issue of retail vacancies is no one person's fault, and that all stakeholders need to be part of the solution. 

The Accelerate program has helped, but “is not by itself a panacea,” he said. 

“I think downtown is fantastic and fabulous but can get better,” he said. “This will get better if everybody works together.”

Hart also said property owners cannot neglect their buildings. 

“You can’t expect a tenant to come in and make 100 years of deferred maintenance and tenant improvements,” he said. 

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

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