SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Santa Barbara's already tough downtown street rules could be even stronger in the weeks ahead.
The city and business leaders are fed up with street transients, panhandlers, illegal vendors, and other issues that have led to complaints from residents and visitors. A recent enforcement led to over 100 citations and arrests. But that's apparently only a part of a much larger effort.
Back in August of 2012, the council had a similar public meeting with similar concerns. Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss back then told a council hearing he was upset with street vendors who were taking over benches with their belongings, and selling items including "rocks" as he described them.
Police increased enforcement and that issue ended at that time. But often, downtown these problems crop back up.
The laws are apparently not clear enough. Police want more options to crack down on panhandlers near restaurants, bank ATM machines, bus lines and movie theaters. They also want illegal vendors and those who are urinating in public to face penalties, possibly higher than an infraction.
"You gotta be careful that it's not a big clean sweep. There's a lot of discretion. We want to give them (police) tools that they need to create a friendly welcoming atmosphere. It's really important," said Santa Barbara City Councilmember Randy Rowse.
One rule would also ban sitting or lying on the sidewalks and in paseos in the first 13 blocks of State street between 7 a.m. and 2 a.m.
Santa Barbara Police Captain David Whitham says, "We're getting positive responses. We are getting officers on foot, we are getting another officer on foot this summer. We have officers on bicycle doing enforcement and three wheeled trikes- an electric vehicle that is very high profile. It makes the officers very visible."
Not every proposal, however, is sitting well with city leaders.
"And so someone should be able to sit on a public bench with their personal belongings separate of whether they are trying to sell something. So I am not completely in support of that," said Santa Barbara City Councilwoman Cathy Murillo.
The committee has more work to do on the wording of the new rules before it goes to the full council for a public hearing and vote.