Members debate outdoor dining parklets
The Santa Barbara City Council spent hours Tuesday afternoon talking about the downtown outdoor dining parklets on State Street.
Members debated the pros and cons of imposing fees and design requirements, keeping parades off lower State Street for two to five years, and whether the parklets should be portable.
In the end, the city council decided to send the question of fees to the finance committee, but to be implemented no later than Feb. 1. The council also decided to keep parades off lower State Street until at least the State Street Master Plan is conceived, and to keep Dec. 1 as the deadline for design requirements.
They also set Dec. 1 as the deadline for changes in existing parklets to allow for stormwater runoff flow to prevent flooding.
The council decided not to demand that existing parklets be made portable, but said new ones must be.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, an ad hoc subcommittee member, said the subcommittee met with stakeholders citywide before coming up with its recommendations. She also said she had taken to heart Mayor Randy Rowse’s previous criticism when the subcommittee submitted no actionable items.
She insisted the parklets are a boon to downtown and that the pedestrian promenade should be expanded, with more thought given to other things that can be done there.
“I don’t know about one business or one type of use over another, but this is a community benefit,” she said. “That’s been made clear over and over again” by the number of people and stakeholders subcommittee members met. “There’s support for outdoor dining and the expansion of the downtown promenade.”
The mayor, however, was underwhelmed by the recommendations, calling them a “hodge podge.” He said that staff should consider them a “direction” by the council as opposed to actionable items. “Staff has gotten a lot of input from us, and can bring back something I can modify. I don’t want to end up right where we are a month from now.”
Brian Bosse, the Public Works downtown team manager, said the city has allowed parklets downtown for the last 2 1/2 years, and that some of them are showing signs of wear.
“We want to improve the overall look and feel of the promenade,” he said.
Design requirements include:
— Parklet platforms and enclosures must be painted or stained a dark color, and the platforms must be movable or liftable to allow for regular cleaning beneath to prevent buildup of trash and organic materials that might attract vermin.
— Platforms also must be as high as the sidewalk and as wide as the gutter apron to better provide continuous unobstructable clear space to accommodate stormwater runoff.
— Parklets can have umbrellas but not roofs, but can have posts up to 10 feet high for string lighting.
— Side railings or enclosures can be no higher than 48 inches, must be painted or stained a dark color, and cannot be solid.
— There can be no stringing of lights across sidewalks or through trees.
— There can be no neon lights, flashing lights or spotlights.
— There can be no advertising or promotional materials posted.
Regarding the fee structure, the ad hoc subcommittee proposed $5 per square foot for the first 9,000 feet of frontage, and fees of $7.50 per square foot for an additional 3,000 feet of space. The money raised would pay for promenade maintenance and operations, which cost $600,000 in fiscal year 2023 and will cost $675,000 in fiscal year 2024.
The subcommittee proposed a continued parade ban on lower State Street during the interim operations period, expected to last another two to five years. They cited public safety concerns, which Police Commander Marylinda Arroyo said are real because events that draw too many people downtown, especially those who put chairs into the street for better viewing, makes police officers’ jobs more difficult in the event of an emergency that requires evacuation.
But in response to questions by Councilmember Mike Jordan, she said police concerns are not related to the parklets themselves being there, but are typical in downtowns with high rises, parking garages, narrow streets and private driveways.
Councilwoman Sneddon praised parade organizers for being flexible and adaptive and for being willing to move parades to alternative routes on wider streets.
As for portability issues, some council members expressed concern about new parklets having to be portable and giving existing ones the option of becoming portable, arguing they should be treated the same.
The issue is important not just to make room for parades, which could happen if parklets can be removed, but to allow for deep cleaning and stormwater runoff.