Unportable outdoor dining parklets stand a chance of being moved by the city of Santa Barbara in the event of a major rainstorm.
The parklets would be moved to allow runoff to flow down drains to prevent flooding on lower State Street.
Clifford Maurer, the public works director, told the Santa Barbara City Council Tuesday that it might just come to that if restaurateurs remain resistant to making their parklets portable.
“If they want to keep the parklets not portable, it’s more of an issue for us in times of big storms,” he said. “We will ensure proper drainage down State Street. If it creates a problem, we will move them to ensure there is not flooding onto the sidewalks.”
It’s more than likely the parklets will be damaged in the process, Mr. Maurer said.
Furthermore, he said, the restaurateur who owns the parklet would be presented with a bill from the city.
“It’s to everyone’s advantage to make them as portable as possible,” Mr. Maurer said.
Parklet portability was one of the bigger issues discussed by the council Tuesday as members discussed recommendations by the ad hoc subcommittee concerning the parklets. Portability is essential not just to allow stormwater runoff to enter storm drains but also to allow for deep pressure cleaning of the street and sidewalks, staff said.
Councilmembers Meagan Harmon and Eric Friedman questioned the wisdom of the subcommittee’s recommendation that only new parklets be required to be portable. Under this plan, it would be up to restaurants whether to make existing parklets portable.
“Everyone should be the same,” Councilmember Friedman said. “They should all be portable or all not. I prefer they’re all portable so we can thoroughly clean and more adequately deal with stormwater.”
Councilmember Mike Jordan, a subcommittee member, said his group thought it better to “nudge” restaurateurs into making the decision to make their parklets portable. Otherwise, he said, they might end up having to “chop holes” in their parklets to allow stormwater runoff to flow through, damaging them in the process.
“We’re playing with catastrophe with blockages on the street preventing stormwater runoff,” he said. “This is my line in the sand.”
The council voted to require restaurateurs to address any parklet-related stormwater issues by Dec. 1.
Meanwhile, the council voted to turn existing parklet design guidelines into design requirements no later than Feb. 1, 2023.
And one of the guidelines would be to make sure parklet platforms are as high as the curb and as wide as the debris apron. Under the guidelines, parklets would have to be liftable/movable to accommodate some stormwater runoff and allow for regular cleaning underneath to clear out debris and organic materials that could attract vermin.
Mayor Randy Rowse was not thrilled by some of the design ideas — especially the one requiring restaurateurs “to slap paint” on the parklets to make sure they’re a dark color.
Regarding the subcommittee’s ideas for a fee structure, the council deferred action by referring it to the finance committee for further study and review. But whatever final fee structure they come up with — and the council approves — must be in place no later than Feb. 1.
Brian Bosse, the public works department’s downtown team manager, told the council that staff backed into the figures of the proposed fee structure offered by the subcommittee to make sure enough money was raised to pay for downtown promenade operations and maintenance.
The subcommittee proposed charging restaurateurs $5 per square foot for the first 9,000 feet of frontage, $7.50 per square foot for the next 3,000 feet, and $10 for any expansion into the street beyond that.
Mayor Rowse was displeased with the entire fee structure being imposed on the restaurateurs who essentially are small business owners trying to stay in business in uncertain times.
“These are real people with real investments out there,” he said.
Also on Tuesday, the council voted to continue to ban parades from State Street, at least until the commencement of the State Street Master Plan. The subcommittee had recommended State Street be parade-free through the ongoing interim operations period, expected to last two to five years.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, among others, praised parade organizers for being flexible enough to take advantage of alternate parade routes. The Fiesta Parade, for example, went down Cabrillo Boulevard and was a huge success, she said.
One issue that popped up repeatedly Monday was the importance of ensuring the parklets are accessible to people with disabilities.
Staff told the council that of the 44 parklets downtown, 11 remain out of compliance with ADA requirements. Of these, four are due to receive a second citation to make necessary changes. If they don’t comply, the city will remove them and bill the restaurateurs for the cost of doing that.
Sarah Clark, the downtown plaza and parking manager, said most violations are only a matter of inches. She added she is confident they will all be in compliance after the next round or two of inspections, but definitely before the enforcement deadline.
Except for the 7-0 vote to send the fee structure issue to the finance committee, the other items were approved 5-2 with the mayor and Councilmember
Friedman voting no. Councilmember Friedman said he was “almost there” in terms of going along with the recommendations, but Mayor Rowse pretty much dismissed the ideas that were presented.
“This is really a hodge podge,” he said. “It’s still very unclear as to what we’re doing.”
He said he didn’t understand the design requirements as presented, objected to the idea of “trying to make black-and-white decisions about parades,” and worried the parklets pose a public safety hazard because they block sections of the street that could interfere with stormwater runoff flow.
“I don’t want to go back to the way it was,” he said, but added that the items discussed Tuesday were “not actionable” as presented. Instead, he said, they should be considered as “more direction” to staff.
“Staff has gotten a lot of input from us,” Mayor Rowse said. “They should bring back something I can modify. I don’t want to end up right where we are a month from now.”