With Amazon and e-commerce still holding a firm grip on consumers shopping habits, the Santa Barbara City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to extend its accelerated-permit program for businesses on downtown State Street. The council voted 6-0 to continue the program for another six months. Currently there are 27 vacant street-level storefronts — a vacancy rate of 9.1 percent. The city’s planning department would like to reduce the vacancy rate to at least 5 percent. The city last summer created an Accelerated Permit Pilot Program to help business owners obtain business permits speedier than in the past. The program includes a dedicated city phone line to answer questions about State Street-area commercial tenant space, and planning staff members to guide business owners and commercial real estate brokers through the discretionary review processes.
Projects in the area will also receive priority placement on design review board agendas.
The pilot program runs along State Street between Cabrillo Boulevard and Sola Street. On Tuesday, the City Council also voted to include vacant storefronts on Coast Village Road.
During the first six months of the pilot program, there was a 38-percent reduction in wait times for design review and a 30-percent drop in wait times for construction plans turnaround.
“You can always do better,” said Councilman Gregg Hart. “We’re going to try to do better. We’re going to do better.”
Some business owners and property owners spoke at the meeting and encouraged the city to speed up the planning process by hiring more staff. “I think people are willing to pay more,” said Ray Mahboob, who owns property on the 400 block of State Street. “We’re willing to pay more. Time is money. It’s costing everyone a lot of money, including the residents in this town.” Barrett Reed, a co-founder of the Miramar Group, submitted plans for a mixed-use retail project on the 400 block of State Street in May of 2017. Reed said the project is in the fourth round of plan checks. As an example, he said his project was delayed about two months over a window disagreement. “There’s a lack of understanding in solving the problems,” Reed said.
City officials stopped short of adding planners to further speed up the process, but said they would have a broader discussion about staffing during budget talks next month. Councilman Jason Dominguez said a long-term goal should be to extend the accelerated-permit program to all areas of the city, including the Eastside, Westside, and De La Vina Street. “We can’t extend to the entire city right now,” Murillo said. “We need a budget discussion first.”
*Thank you to Joshua Molina and Noozhawk for text, and travel.usnews.com