Restaurants, businesses wrestle over the issue of parking
Downtown Santa Barbara is not the only place with parklet problems.
Five miles down the road in Montecito, the main thoroughfare, Coastal Village Road, is the focus of an us-vs-them battle between restaurants and merchants over the outdoor eateries — only in this case, the one and only complaint is about parking, or lack thereof.
Twenty-five Montecito businesses and seven Montecito landlords sent a petition to Santa Barbara Mayor Randy Rowse, city council members, City Administrator Rebecca Bjork and City Attorney Ariel Calonne, demanding that the Coast Village Road parklets be removed, or else be forced to comply with Santa Barbara parking regulations.
“We, the undersigned, are writing in support of restoring equity to all businesses on Coast Village Road (CVR) and Coast Village Circle (CVC),” they wrote. “The rationale for this is simple; the conditions that created (the) parklet’s temporary existence, namely, indoor dining restrictions, haven’t been present since June 15, 2021 and thus are no longer required.”
They stressed that their parking situation is in no way similar to Santa Barbara’s. Montecito merchants and landlords on Coast Village Road and Coast Village Circle, they said, “do not have the benefit of public parking structures to support themselves as businesses downtown do, resulting in a pre-pandemic parking shortage.
“Businesses on CVR and CVC count on public street parking to support them, including restaurants that do not have parklets,” they wrote. “Therefore removing 20 percent of the available public street parking spaces on CVR to build a handful of ‘temporary’ outdoor parklets was never sustainable for most businesses in the area, has exacerbated the preexisting parking shortage, and compromises public safety.”
“I understand that people on the street are unhappy by the loss of parking,” said Leonard Schwartz, the general manager of Lucky’s, one of the restaurants the petitioners contend abuse parking regulations by extending too far into the street.
“I absolutely understand the frustration on the part of our neighbors, but we’re dealing with unusual circumstances (brought on by COVID-19),” he told the News-Press. “We’re abiding with what the city asked us to do.”
In addition, Mr. Schwartz said, “we are providing way more additional outside dining for people at a time when the virus is still mutating and more contagious than ever. More than half the people who dine at Lucky’s insist on being outside.
“We’re pleasing some people and upsetting others. I get it,” he said. “But we’re following the rules. As far I know, we are in compliance.”
Many Santa Barbara residents might wonder what Montecito’s parking controversy has to do with Santa Barbara, and why the petitioners chose to contact their neighbors up north to demand relief. Especially when the city is struggling to resolve its own parklet situation on State Street, including issues of portability, rent, regulations and sewer drainage.
The answer is that Montecito’s Coast Village Road and Coast Village Circle are within the city limits of Santa Barbara.
Mayor Rowse said he feels for the merchants.
“I haven’t seen the petition, but I am aware of it,” he told the News-Press. “I know the signatories. Obviously if I was one of those guys, I’d probably feel the same way. On Coast Village Road, the most valuable commodity happens to be parking.”
At the same time, Mr. Rowse, a former restaurant owner, said he understands the needs of restaurants, too, which were allowed to build the parklets because of COVID and the resulting restrictions on indoor dining. The city had no choice but to stop enforcing its existing dining and parking regulations “just to keep these businesses alive,” he said.
“It was the right thing to do,” Mr. Rowse said. “We passed an emergency ordinance to deal with stuff already in place where they don’t enforce the rules in place, but that’s got to end sometime. We didn’t officially say, ‘Get rid of the rules.’ We just didn’t apply them.”
The mayor said he also feels for building owners and landlords forced to deal with the parklets and their resulting loss of parking spaces.
“The property owners say, ‘The conditions under which I bought my properties or lease them to tenants have changed,’ ” Mr. Rowse said. “Now there’s a structure blocking visibility for the storefront and parking is limited all day long. I see the gripes. I understand what they’re feeling and going through.”
Added Brian Bosse, the Santa Barbara Public Works Department’s downtown team manager, “From the beginning of this process, the city has endeavored to be flexible with businesses and expanded outdoor business areas in an effort to assist them in getting through the many restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We work with our business community to educate first and then enforce if an issue of access or safety arises,” he told the News-Press
The issue, Mayor Rowse said, boils down to what to do about the parklets now the pandemic has eased and indoor dining is allowed, especially since the city has failed to come up with interim rules and regulations for restaurants to follow.
“In the operational part of the interim plan, we focus on State Street,” he said, “but our ordinance applies all over town. I’m an advocate of neighborhood autonomy and their having authority over their area, but they (Montecito businesses and landlords) need to be proactive about it.”
Which is exactly what the businesses and landlord say they’ve done with the petition sent a week ago via email.
Whatever the city does in response, it had better be soon, they say, because the overreach by some restaurants and their parklets extending into the street is threatening their livelihoods by removing the number of parking spaces available for their customers.
“The parking problem on CVR and CVC is compounded when you consider the impact of adding 253 restaurant parklet seats, many of which are in violation of the sizing guidelines posted on the city’s website,” they wrote in their petition to the city. “Using the city’s own municipal code requirement of one parking space per three restaurant seats, 84 parking spaces are required to support this added seating.
“(But) rather than adding 84 parking spaces, parklets have subtracted 28 parking spaces resulting in a net deficit of 112 parking spaces. To put these numbers in perspective, there are only a total of 117 parking spaces available on CVR today.
“The overall parking problem is further exacerbated with the reduction of parking on Coast Village Circle caused by the ongoing 101-freeway construction. Has the impact of the upcoming roundabout construction at Olive Mill Road and CVR been considered?”
And, they say, the shortage of parking isn’t the only problem.
“The public safety issues noncompliant parklets create are numerous,” they wrote. “Alleys, bike lanes, sidewalks and driveways are being blocked (and) cars are double- and triple-parked on a daily basis. At least two serious automobile accidents have resulted directly from parklets on the 1200 block of CVR. Bicycles are constantly being forced from established bike lanes and into traffic lanes due to noncompliant parklets extending as much as 21 feet from the curb.
“The substantial reduction in parking enforcement also compounds the problem, and further differentiates CVR and CVC from downtown Santa Barbara,” they wrote. “The negative environmental and public safety impact of distracted automobile drivers circling the block looking for parking must also be considered.”
Mr. Bosse said city parklet guidelines provide that parklets extending into the right-of-way are allowed to extend 6 feet from the curb, but that that was intended as the depth for a parallel-type parking space. The intent, he said, was to keep the parklets within the parking lane and out of travel lanes and bike lanes.
“On Coast Village Road, parklets are allowed to be built a bit deeper than the 6 feet because the angled parking spaces create a wider parking lane than does a parallel-type parking space,” he said.
But if a parklet in a parallel parking space or angled parking space extends beyond the parking area and into a travel lane or bike lane, “we would visit the business owner and require that they immediately remove the parklet from the travel lane or bike lane.
“In previous visits to Coast Village Road, staff did not find any parklets extending beyond the parking area and into a travel lane or bike lane,” Mr. Bosse said. On the other hand, “we have found that there were issues with vehicles being parked, by valet or otherwise, in the bike lane and even into the travel lane. We worked with our Police Department and Transportation staff to install additional signage and painted red curbs in an effort to eliminate these abuses.”
While Santa Barbara police have not seen the petition, it is concerned about reported parking violations and has taken steps to enforce them, Sgt. Ethan Ragsdale, the department’s public information officer, told the News-Press.
“As far as public safety concerns, we did receive information about there being a parking safety issue in the 1200 block of Coast Village Road pertaining to vehicles being parked, blocking a bike/traffic lane, as well as some other vehicles parking in the area that could cause visibility issues,” he said. “That problem has since been resolved to my knowledge.
“We were able to work with the businesses productively, employed the assistance of Public Works for extra signs and some curb painting. There have also been parking enforcement officers on Coast Village Road to enforce all parking violations on the entire portion of CVR.”
He confirmed that police received a call about a parking problem near Lucky’s and that a police officer responded. “A verbal reminder was given to the valets, reminding them not to block the bike or vehicle lanes,” he said. “I can’t comment on whether the vehicles were moved back to the parking location in question because I was not there. There was no formal ‘cease and desist.’ “
Sgt. Ragsdale confirmed that police met with Mr. Schwartz and had a “very productive” conversation. “He was very understanding of the problems we discussed.”
The sergeant said he disagreed with reports that Lucky’s was not honoring the commitments made by Mr. Schwartz.
“It is important to understand the valet company is contracted by the restaurant,” Sgt. Ragsdale said. “Communication from the police department to Lucky’s to the valet company can take time to disseminate to every employee.”
He confirmed that the city painted two corners red near Lucky’s and posted “no stopping” signs to cut back on future parking violations. In addition, he confirmed that white cones have been placed along the restaurant parklet’s exterior perimeter. “We are still evaluating to see if the traffic engineering safety improvements have been effective.”
“The two officers who came to talk to me could not have been nicer or more cordial,” Mr. Schwartz told the News-Press. “They found a way to resolve this without being inflammatory.”
As far as the red curbs and “no stopping” signs are concerned, “we’re thrilled,” he said, adding that Lucky’s put the cones in place themselves. He said they also talked to the valet company “to tighten up things, so to speak.”
Lucky’s, he said, has not heard back from police about any further violations. “They made it clear that we would hear from them” (if there were.) I don’t have any problems with that (so) I assume no news is good news on that front.”
Sgt. Ragsdale, meanwhile, stressed that police parking enforcement is not confined to Lucky’s.
“Parking enforcement has been doing enforcement on the entire portion of Coast Village Road and issued some citations for parking violations to include double parking, over time, red zone, etc.,” he said.
Asked to comment on the parklet/parking unrest, Interim Police Chief Marylinda Arroyo said she agreed with Sgt. Ragsdale’s comments.
“The police department responds to calls for service 24/7 – 365, based upon priorities, the highest being imminent life and death situations,” she added. “Public safety in reducing harm is a mission strategy that includes enforcement as well as education citywide. Engineering, policies and code creation are key components that interact with the community and how we provide that service.”
So what happens now?
Sgt. Ragsdale said the city will continue enforcing its parking regulations.
“I believe it is the goal of everyone involved to handle these parking issues as quickly and professionally as possible,” he said. “We are all working together to solve these problems. The police department as well as other departments in the city responded quickly to these safety concerns. We are watching the situation closely.”
Mr. Bosse said the city will continue to address the parklet situation.
“The city will be initiating additional outreach to Coast Village Road merchants, the Coast Village Association, Coast Village Road restaurants, Coast Village Road employees and Coast Village Road patrons in the coming weeks in an effort to better assess the entire parklet situation,” he said.
Mayor Rowse said it’s time for the city — finally — to decide all issues concerning the parklets by adding new rules and regulations to the city’s parklet ordinance.
“There have to be some kinds of standards for what they were supposed to be,” he said. “Coastal Village Road is a completely different animal than State Street but it falls under the same ordinance.”
The council’s ad hoc subcommittee, tasked to come up with them, is due to report back to the full council next month with its recommendations.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon, a subcommittee member, told the News-Press the panel is preparing to do just that.
“I have not seen the petition, but I have heard from merchants, and we are already in process of scaling the parklets back,” she said.
Coastal Village Road merchants and landlords propose a much simpler — and quicker — solution: Get rid of the parklets.
“The quantifiable infrastructural differences between Coast Village Road and downtown Santa Barbara … require different treatment with respect to parklets,” they wrote in their petition.
“Extending parklets on CVR to the end of 2023 with only half of the parking required by the city’s municipal code is unacceptable. Doing so will continue to negatively impact the majority (92 percent) of businesses, continue the current inequity on the street and further jeopardize public safety.
“We understand that adding 112 required parking spaces is impossible in the short term for many reasons, thus we request for the removal of parklets from the public right of way on CVR.”
But according to Mayor Rowse, that’s easier said than done.
“It’s tough to take away something once you’ve given it to people,” he said. “I always say putting the genie back in the bottle is going to be a trick … but it’s going to have to be done.”
Lucky’s general manager, meanwhile, said the restaurant is standing firm. “The city told all of the restaurateurs that we are good with the parklets through March 2023, and we’re counting on them to abide by that,” Mr. Schwartz said.
He suggested the city consider providing public parking in the area, pointing out the “huge lot” behind CVS, and space on Coast Village Circle that could be turned into municipal parking lots. “It would be amazingly wonderful,” he said. “It would change the whole nature of things.”
At this point, Mayor Rowse said, there doesn’t appear to be anything the city can do immediately to address the petitioners’ demands or ease their concerns.
Allowing restaurants to add the parklets, he said, “is basically a tacit granting of extra seating that other people don’t get to enjoy,” he said. “Even if the restaurants are paying rent, it may make it more fair, but it does not help others who need parking.
“I don’t know how to replace parking for the other folks who want it,” Mayor Rowse said, “(but) this can’t stand. They both make a point practically and legally as far as I’m concerned. There may be a compromise out there. I’m not really sure.
“We’re a community and we all have to do great or none of us are doing great,” he said. “Retail is important to restaurants and restaurants are important to retail. We’ve all got to get along.”