Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse castigated his City Council colleagues on Friday, for voting to keep nine blocks of State Street closed to traffic through 2026 - portraying the move as desultory and foolish as he pointed to a "generational" divide underlying the conflict.
Returning to Newsmakers TV for an "Ask the Mayor" episode, Rowse said he has spoken to major retailers and other businesses considering Santa Barbara as a new location, who balk at the possibility because of the shabby and uncertain condition of downtown's main corridor, particularly the extensive street closure, which prospective companies view as a hindrance to attracting customers.
"It looks like a bunch of fireworks stands in Ojai," the mayor griped, referencing the randomly designed and cheaply built restaurant parklets, which remain the most visible feature of the council's 2020 decision to create the prolonged "promenade" as an emergency tactic to aid them economically during the teeth of the pandemic.
The mayor was on the losing end of a series of lopsided votes at the council's last meeting, a spirited five-hour affair, in which a supermajority voted to keep the "emergency" closures and conditions in place for at least the next two-and-a-half years, as the State Street Advisory Committee continues working on a long-range plan.
Since then, Rowse said, he has received numerous calls and emails backing his stance, many from non-restaurant businesses; the mayor, who has published recent op-eds staking out his position in local news outlets, said he has urged the callers to contact other council members in an attempt to rally enough public support to revisit the controversy.
Answering questions from Josh Molina and the genial host, the mayor also:
Smiled when asked about the rhetoric of council member Meagan Harmon, who led the charge to keep the street closed with overripe oratory that depicted the move as a transformational and historic effort. "...never trust anyone who uses paradigm and communal in the same sentence,” he cracked.
Sharply differed with recent statements by council member Kristen Sneddon, in which she complained of a lack of transparency by city staff in dealing with the budget. "Untoward, unnecessary," Rowse said.
Agreed there are critical "generational" differences in values and experience, both on council and in the city, underpinning the clash over the short-term plan for State Street. "It's a relatively young council," he said, adding that some members seem indifferent, if not ignorant, of past planning and design efforts for downtown, while expressing concern that the interests and needs of older and disabled citizens are left out of the debate.
Rowse also acknowledged that he bears some responsibility for a failure of leadership in not persuading a majority of his colleagues about the wrongheadedness of sticking with the current hodgepodge melange of parklets, Wild West cyclists and empty retail storefronts that characterize the "promenade." "I own that," he said.
All this and much more, right here, right now, on Newsmakers TV. You can watch the new episode via YouTube below, or by clicking through this link. The podcast version is here. TVSB, Cox Channel 17, airs the program at 8 p.m., Monday through Friday, and at 9 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. KCSB, 91.9 FM, broadcasts the show at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays.