The city of Santa Barbara is considering reducing most outdoor dining fees in an attempt to boost restaurant business on State Street.
The current charge is $299 for each chair, and $55 for landscaping pots, street furniture and outdoor heaters
Instead of the fees for the chairs, the city wants to charge a $500 application fee for 1-4 chairs and $1,000 for five or more chairs, with an annual license fee renewal of $250.
The funding scheme change would result in a loss of $76,000 annually in revenue to the city.
The City Council's three-member ordinance committee approved the change with a 3-0 vote on Tuesday, with the idea that reducing the fees would encourage restaurants to offer more outdoor dining downtown.
"I feel like we need to start doing things to make it easier for business owners and State Street, and the city to feel like they can provide a service they feel they would really enjoy, and this is one step to do that," said Councilman Oscar Gutierrez.
Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon agreed.
"I really enjoy outdoor dining," Sneddon said. "I think it creates a nice atmosphere."
She also pushed city staff to consider installing benches again on State Street to create a more family friendly atmosphere.
“I really would like to see the benches back on State Street,"
However, the fee-reduction has its critics.
City activist Anna Marie Gott said the city should not be throwing away revenue to restaurants that are using the public right of way to make a private profit.
"Our public right of way is valuable," Gott said. "Everyone deserves to pay their fare share."
She said there are other incentives the city should consider.
"If you want to encourage more people to use outdoor dining, give them free rent for a year," Gott said.
She agreed with Sneddon that the city should bring back benches to State Street.
"We removed almost all the benches," Gott said. "There‘s no place really for a lot of people to sit on State Street, and that is part of the pedestrian master plan."
Gott pointed out that the city should wait to hear back from the consultants it hired last month before giving away the public right of way to the restaurants.
"We should not be giving away our rents before the actual State Street consultant's report comes back," she said. "One of the issues is that we don’t have enough benches, not enough family friendly activities, too much smoking and too many bars.”
Santa Barbara resident Steve Hausz also criticized the idea.
"I don’t understand why you would take that away from them and give them free rent," Hausz said. "I think it is ill-advised, and it is not going to provide that much benefit."
Councilman Randy Rowse, who owns the Paradise Cafe restaurant, said he supports the plan because it will help "get away from the anti-business atmosphere Santa Barbara is labeled with so much."
The change must still be approved by the full City Council.