Santa Barbara City Council votes against naming restaurant in a public nuisance ordinance
Chick-fil-A won approval this week for a proposed agreement to relieve traffic congestion.
The Santa Barbara City Council voted 6-1 to approve the traffic circulation agreement, which provides enforceable traffic control measures and site improvements for the Chick-fil-A restaurant at 3707 State St.
The council also voted 7-0 to rescind its plans for an ordinance for the declaration of a nuisance, resulting from extensive queuing at the drive-through lanes at Chick-fil-A.
The council voted in accordance with the recommendation by the staff report.
In recent years, the queuing from Chick-fil-A’s drive-through onto State Street reportedly created serious traffic congestion, as well as hazardous conditions for pedestrians, cyclists and those with disabilities. At the meeting on Tuesday, staff and Chick-fil-A presented reports demonstrating that temporary measures implemented by the restaurant have significantly improved those conditions.
The staff report was given by Daniel S. Hentschke, the assistant city attorney.
“The most important thing is that the interim measures appear to be working,” said Mr. Hentschke.
The traffic monitoring since March 1 shows that the number of cars in lines was significantly lower than city staff observed in 2021. In March there were several minutes of queuing on several different days. In April there was more queuing than in March with a daily average of 24 minutes ranging from 3 minutes to 72 minutes. Chick-fi-A admitted to city staff that staffing challenges contributed to some of the higher queuing times in April, but queuing was still significantly less than observed in 2021.
For May, the daily average range was from 18-30 minutes, with the average duration of a queue being about 30-40 seconds. The condition observed is within the range that is expected for business traffic around town, reported Mr. Hentschke.
The traffic circulation agreement was worked out by Chick-fil-A and the project team, which consisted of Assistant City Attorney Daniel S. Hentschke, City Planner Renee Brooke and Derrick Bailey, principal transportation engineer.
The agreement was made available for public review.
The agreement includes implementation of the council’s directive to work with Chick-fil-A to come up with an equitable solution, and the plan facilitates the implementation of site improvements to improve traffic circulation. The measures in the agreement are contractually enforceable, Mr. Hentschke said.
The agreement has three primary purposes: stop the nuisance proceedings, establish enforceable operational requirements and terminate the nuisance proceedings on successful implementation of the site plan.
“It does commit both sides to work in good faith to achieve the approval and implementation of the site plan, including construction of the site improvements,” said Mr. Hentschke.
Chick-fil-A and property owners have signed the agreement, subject to Santa Barbara City Council approval. Additionally the city retains full enforcement authority should a nuisance exist despite site modifications and operational requirements.
The council also heard public comments on this issue.
“My family has the privilege of calling this beautiful city home. I drive by Chick-fil-A multiple times a day, and so I consider myself a qualified observer,” one man told the council. “I also frequent many of the local businesses surrounding the Chick-fil-A.”
He said his family buys groceries at Whole Foods and that his children go to local dentists.
“We also visit the Chick-fil-A,” he said. “My daughter, who is diagnosed with Celiac disease, can eat her favorite meal of grilled nuggets, fruit cup and an apple juice without any worries. So as I have observed Chick-fil-A, and what I have seen over the past months is a significant improvement in traffic flow and customers being able to get in and out of the parking lot.
“I happened to visit on one of these busy occasions, and one of the new traffic controllers at the front kindly waved me on and I drove by. I’ve noticed multiples of those traffic control people at the entrance and exit directing customers to only turn right and not to turn left.
“Whatever Chick-fil-a has been doing in that neighborhood and community I love is working, and so I urge the council to allow Chick-fil-A to continue to operate as is,” he said. “And this will give them the time for their proposed improvements and the restaurant to solve this problem once and for all.”
Another man noted he and his wife have lived in Santa Barbara for more than 55 years. He said he liked the food at Chick-fil-A and said “it’s only gotten better” since Mr. Collins took over the operation.
“It’s an interesting problem for the city that’s trying to get more business in the city to have an operation that’s too successful for the street,” he said. “So I think what you have is a situation where the staff and Mr. Collins and his team have joined together to solve the problem. My wife and I live within a mile of the place, and we probably go by it anywhere from two to a half dozen times a day. And we’ve seen the improvement with what they have done, and with having people out there at the right time to direct traffic, the problem has basically gone away. I would certainly urge you all to approve what your staff and Mr. Collins have worked out.”
However, not all public comments were in support. Mr. James Kahan gave public comment in opposition Tuesday evening and also expressed his opposition in a letter he sent to the News-Press. Mr. Kahan was formerly the assistant city attorney in Santa Barbara.
“I oppose the granting of a special exemption to the Chick-fil-A that would excuse it from complying with the City law, which prohibited new drive-through facilities and expansion of existing drive-through facilities,” he said. “The city enacted that law in 1979. All businesses in the city have complied with that law for more than 43 years, and there is no fair justification to exempt one business from compliance.
“However, the project by the Chick-fil-A proposes the addition of one or two lanes, a second ordering sign board, larger sign boards, additional lighting, expanding the apron for the driveway, grading and numerous other changes that are clearly an expansion. It is both curious and unfortunate that the granting of the special exemption to allow the expansion is buried in the lengthy staff reports. ‘Exemption’ is never mentioned.
“I strongly disagree with the bald, unsupported conclusion that the proposal before the City Council is not an expansion,” Mr. Kahan wrote in his letter to the News-Press.
City Councilman Eric Friedman said that things were moving in the right direction with issues around public safety, environmental review, and Architectural Board of Review concerns all having been addressed.
“I appreciate the collaboration we have and that it’s getting us to a better place to address the long-standing issues,” said Mr. Friedman in a news release.