Santa Barbara City Council enforces ADA requirements, denies appeals of decision to remove them
The Santa Barbara City Council took a hard line Tuesday on enforcing ADA accessibility requirements, voting to deny appeals filed by the owners of six outdoor parklets who received notices to take them down for noncompliance.
Despite voicing empathy for some of the owners’ particular circumstances, council members said they had no choice but to enforce federal law requiring such facilities to provide accessibility for people with disabilities.
“As the council, we have demanded that staff get out there” to make sure the parklets are ADA-accessible, Mayor Randy Rowse said.
“The lion’s share” of the parklets are in compliance, he said, and there was no room for any exceptions.
“It’s up to us to enforce the law of the land,” he said.
The parklet owners filing an appeal were Taza Mediterranean Street Kitchen, 413 State St.; Ca’Dario Restaurant, 37 E. Victoria St.; Courthouse Tavern 129 E. Anapamu St.; Trattoria Vittoria, 30 E. Victoria St.; Foxtail Kitchen and Bar, 14 E. Cota St.; and Folded Hills Wintery, 1294 Coast Village Road, Montecito.
Council members addressed one appeal at a time, with Mayor Rowse noting that they had been instructed by City Attorney Sarah Knecht to vote only to deny or uphold each appeal, without the option of allowing a parklet to continue operating if it followed certain conditions.
Staff said the noncompliant parklets had been inspected multiple times, and that multiple notices of violations had been delivered in person, posted or sent by certified mail, until the final notice of removal was issued April 17.
When staff checked in early May, three of the parklets had corrected their violations: Ca’Dario, Foxtail and Trattoria Vittoria. Taza and Courthouse Tavern were still in noncompliance. And Folded Hills had removed its parklet due to construction on the Olive Mill Road roundtable.
Taza co-owner Hitesh Ambalal said his parents and newborn were in the hospital while the restaurant was going through the inspection and enforcement process, and he “kind of shut down,” allowing “a series of bad managers” to handle things while he was absent.
“Up until last month I didn’t even know about it,” he said.
Two managers have since been fired, he said, and the restaurant has corrected the violations, a small gap between the concrete and the parklet and a table that was not ADA-compliant.
“The table was an oversight,” he said. “I didn’t even realize it was not in compliance.”
Despite this, he admitted, “There was no excuse for it. I wish that there was. But none of it was done in bad faith.”
Councilmember Mike Jordan said he appreciated Mr. Ambalal telling his personal story “and laying down on your sword. It has not gone unappreciated.
“But I cannot find a way through this but to not deny the appeal. Multiple chances were given over a long, long, long time for a process that should not even need noticing. It’s the law.”
Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez, however, said he could not vote to shut down Taza’s parklet.
“I’ve spoken to businesses on the 400 block, and I know how difficult it is. It is my district. I know it has not been treated the same as the other blocks and other streets. Obviously there were errors made, and it has been made clear he is rectifying it. I will uphold the appeal.”
The council voted 6 to his 1 no vote to deny the appeal.
Simon Clark, representing Ca’Dario, insisted the restaurant was not properly noticed, but that the business nevertheless reduced the lip on its ramp to make it ADA-compliant.
He complained the restaurant was not given a picture of “what a good table” looked like and so purchased one that was not ADA-compliant. “But we did it in good faith.”
Such tables are supposed to be at least 30 inches wide and 19 inches deep.
“I apologize and regret it, but we did assiduously try to correct it. We did our best and ask your indulgence for keeping our parklet,” Mr. Clark told the council.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon said there was no excuse for the “lack of oversight compared to the benefit given to operate in city space. That comes with additional responsibilities. I have no confidence going forward that anything will be remediated.”
Mayor Rowse noted that Ca’Dario’s is one of his favorite places to eat. “But these are black-and-white situations to me.”
The council vote? 7-0 to deny the appeal.
No one spoke on behalf of Courthouse Tavern. Staff noted that the restaurant purchased a new table, but it was taller than the maximum height of 34 inches “so it still is not in compliance.
With no discussion, the council voted 7-0 to deny the appeal.
Owner Vittoria Comin urged the council to uphold Trattoria Vittoria’s appeal, saying its parklet provided a “huge public benefit” by allowing people to eat outside, including their patrons with disabilities.
She admitted “a failing on our part” but noted that when she took over as general manager, her grandfather was in the middle of a legal dispute with his partner and “we were in a huge state of disarray.”
She said she acted to make the necessary fixes once she learned of the ADA violations, but by that time several carpenters were too busy working on other parklets.
“We borrowed a table until we got one delivered,” she said.
Councilmember Eric Friedman said he appreciated her coming forward, “but we’re limited in what we can review and want we can’t.”
Councilmember Sneddon asked whether the legal dispute and change in ownership would make a difference, but the city attorney said it wouldn’t.
Councilmember Jordan said because of the change in ownership, and the fact that someone other than Ms. Comin had received the notices of ownership, that he was inclined to uphold the appeal.
He said the council sometimes needs to consider additional information based on “what’s happening in the world.” At the same time, he noted that the council could not consider upholding the appeal with conditions. The city attorney, he said, “has tied our hands.”
And Mayor Rowse again observed that the Americans with Disabilities Act “is not squishable or changeable.” The ADA act is “very technical and hard to understand,” he said, “but it is the law ,and it’s irresponsible to do otherwise (than to enforce something) everybody else in town has to comply with.”
The council voted 5-2 to deny the appeal, with Councilmembers Jordan and Oscar Gutierrez dissenting.
No one spoke in favor of Foxtail’s appeal. The council voted 6-1 to deny its appeal, with Councilmember Oscar Gutierrez dissenting.
Andrew Bush spoke in favor of Folded Hills Winery’s appeal, even though the business already removed its parklet because of construction on the Olive Mill Road roundabout.
“There is no doubt that we did screw up,” he said, but added that Folded Hills Winery thought its ramp was ADA-compliant when it wasn’t.
He said he did not want to spend thousands of dollars to install a new parklet with an ADA-compliant ramp until construction on the roundabout was completed.
“It is our intention to be 100% ADA-compliant,” he said. “We really believe in that.”
But Councilmember Sneddon said there was no excuse for Folded Hills Winery’s failure to be ADA-compliant while its parklet was still up and in use.
“Even if you’re open one day, one hour, one moment at a time, you need to be compliant,” she said.
The council voted unanimously to deny his appeal.