The Santa Barbara City
Council voted against a proposal
to rotate benches on
State Street as a panhandling
deterrent during their Tuesday

The $50,000 project was
called for by local business
owners concerned about
excessive homeless solicitation.
The failed plan included
moving trashcans, bike racks,
newspaper stands and 14
benches currently located on
the 800 and 900 blocks of
the downtown Santa Barbara
street in order to make the
fixtures less desirable to and
convenient for panhandlers.
The council decided to
drop the proposal and revisit
it next year after hearing from
representatives from the city’s
Redevelopment Agency and
Downtown Organization and community members.
According to Santa Barbara City Council member
Randy Rowse, the proposal did not adequately address
the problems concerning the area’s transient population.
“Focusing on the homeless as panhandlers is what
takes efforts away from really needy homeless,” Rowse
said. “However, the panhandling that damages businesses
takes away tax money that funds homeless issues
… it really is a self-defeating issue.”

The Downtown Organization and Santa Barbara
City Redevelopment Agency began discussing the proposal
in early January.
Despite the council’s concerns, Bill Collyer of the
Downtown Organization said the project was intended
to increase tourism and business rather than address
the needs of the homeless.

“The ultimate goal was not to displace homeless but
to make State Street more welcoming for tourists and
locals alike,” Collyer said. “However, in the end it is
the Redevelopment Agency’s money and their decision
on how to spend it.”

Peggy Burbank, redevelopment specialist for the
Redevelopment Agency, said the agency is only responsible
for funding construction projects that improve
local infrastructure.

“Homelessness is a multi-faceted problem and we
need many approaches to it,” Burbank said. “The redevelopment
agency is meant to do physical improvement
to project areas and adjusting a small section of improving
State Street is not so much addressing homeless as
it is really addressing the communities’ benefit from
State Street and the benefit of merchants as well.”
Burbank said many local store owners supported the
agency’s proposal because of the impact of aggressive
panhandlers on their business.

Although the council denied the bench proposal,
Rowse said the council does plan to increase the presence
of law enforcement in the area.

“The ramping up of police personnel will really
benef it the needy homeless who need directional
assistance,” Rowse said. “But moving benches and
diminishing panhandling would also help push further
and faster on the homeless situation. Last night was a
setback to our progress.”