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Santa Barbara explores idea of continuing outdoor parklets, continued closure of State Street

Angel Russell

Eight blocks of State Street from Sola to Gutierrez in Downtown Santa Barbara have been closed to traffic since May 2020 to allow businesses to operate outdoors due to pandemic restrictions. With how successful it's been, the City Council is looking to extend the closure, and possibly even make it permanent.

“And there goes the chihuahua in the flame basket,” said Erik Helms as he watched a woman on a decorated bike ride past the Chase Restaurant on State Street.

Helms and his friend Marko Williams said they enjoy dining outdoors on the parklets because they love people-watching.

"I think it’s a wonderful thing to keep," Helms said. " A positive memory of a bad time.”

The ordinance to keep these parklets operating like this was set to expire this March, but now City Council is eying the idea of keeping them through Dec. 2023.

The partial closure of State Street has been a success and a silver lining to the pandemic, said Jason Harris, the economic development director for Santa Barbara.

Harris said the City Council will be looking to allow businesses all around the city to continue operating outdoors.

“There is still a need for businesses to recover from the pandemic," Harris said. "Especially in 2020, they were closed for about half a year, and still need to make that loss revenue and that business activity.”

Harris said the idea of keeping the parts of State Street in downtown closed to traffic extends past the two year proposal, with the city exploring making it permanent in the State Street master plan.

“We need to do more planning and study and design, as to what kind of future is it for a permanent condition of the State Street corridor," Harris said.

For now, several businesses said they are already planning on upgrading the look of their parklets if the ordinance is extended.

Sophia Blevitt-Bradley with the Mosaic Locale restaurant said the closure has added vibrancy to the city.

“I think it's a lot of fun for the tourists too," Blevitt-Bradley said. "Because this is so European style, and it really plays in with our whole riviera concept.”

The city council will be discussing the ordinance at their January 25 meeting.

Corrected: January 14, 2022 at 8:11 PM PST
A former version of this article implied all of State Street was shut down. It has been revised to reflect the specific streets that are closed.
Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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