City Council requests sidewalks be cleared to return to ADA compliance
Business owners on State Street and around the city will not have to remove or change their outdoor dining parklets — for now.
Going against part of the staff recommendation, the Santa Barbara City Council agreed that the parklets downtown shouldn’t have to conform to the aesthetic guidelines developed by members of the Historic Landmarks Commission and Santa Barbara Chapter of the American Institutes of Architects.
“It is a time downtown where the level of activity and the number of people walking on the street far exceeds anything I’ve ever seen in my history of Santa Barbara,” Councilman Mike Jordan said. “…What’s drawing people downtown and engaging them is something much different than the historical look of Santa Barbara.”
Staff originally recommended that no new parklet enclosures be built, along with the removal of any fixtures not approved pre-pandemic and the removal of all overhead elements such as a roof, canopies and tents. Parklet owners would have also had to comply with approved colors, eliminate plastic patio furniture and add plantings to screen enclosures, among other things.
“It’s really remarkable what our local business has been able to accomplish this past year, not only just on State Street, but on our side streets as well, and our restaurants and our retail,” Councilwoman Meagan Harmon said. “…The only way to dampen that energy with certainty, the only way to diminish the excitement that we’ve generated, the only way to do that is to layer interim guideline on top of interim regulation on top of interim guideline without any clear path forward, and that’s what it feels like, at least in connection with the aesthetic guidelines we’re trying to do here today.”
The council decided that any decisions made on the design of parklets should be made by the still-forming State Street Advisory Committee. In addition, they said business owners shouldn’t be required to change their current parklets until the Emergency Economic Recovery Ordinance expires in March of 2022.
However, members were united in recommending the business owners remove operations from the sidewalks, in order to create accessibility for all members of the community. Speakers during public comment expressed their frustration with the current state of accessibility on State Street, especially for individuals in wheelchairs or the visually impaired.
Matt Lowe shared during public comment that he himself is visually impaired, and some parts of State Street require walking in single file lines.
“These tables in front of restaurants — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked into them, whether it’s a sign or a person or a table. It’s very frustrating,” he said. “…Is there ever going to be enforcement or fines for people that block the sidewalk? …I’d really like to enjoy downtown and not feel like I have to trudge through it and struggle, because it’s tiring, and I would like to enjoy life.”
Mr. Lowe’s and others’ comments about the need for additional accessibility, and what they described as the current lack thereof, was met with support from the whole council to clear the sidewalks, and have staff return with a detailed report on how they will address accessibility needs of the downtown core, including ramps onto the sidewalks and other access issues. It’s worth noting that not all businesses have to clear the sidewalks — they must comply with pre-pandemic regulations on dining on sidewalks, which were ADA compliant.
Finally, the council requested that staff double check the width down the center of State Street to ensure it complies with emergency vehicle requirements.
In other business, in a split vote, the council did not move a proposal forward that would have increased the city’s inclusionary requirement outside the Central Business District to meet affordable housing needs. The proposal was to require 15% of all units to be restricted to moderate-income households as opposed to the current 10% requirement.
Council members held off on voting last week, due to a split three to three vote. Councilwoman Meagan Harmon was present at the meeting this time to share her thoughts on it, and although she voted in favor of raising the inclusionary requirement, the majority still preferred to wait until September or October when an economic feasibility analysis is done.
Ms. Harmon agreed with Councilwoman Kristen Sneddon’s desire to not wait any longer and move the increase forward.
“I am a strong proponent of inclusionary housing — always have been, always will be,” Ms. Harmon said. “I believe that we should work as hard as possible as fast as possible to get that percentage up as high as we can possibly get it … My job as a city official in setting the housing policy is to make sure that our residents get the benefit of whatever bargain we strike through these housing policies.”
Ms. Harmon and Ms. Sneddon, along with Mayor Pro Tempore Oscar Gutierrez, voted in favor of establishing the 15% inclusionary requirement, but Mayor Cathy Murillo, Councilwoman Alejandra Gutierrez and Councilmen Eric Friedman and Mike Jordan all voted to wait.
Mayor Murillo said that she believes “having more information later is better,” and said that the council will be “smarter later on this.”
The council was unanimous in adopting the Fiscal Year 2022 Operating and Capital Budget on Tuesday. Staff reported that the FY 2022 budget revenue is $166.2 million and expenditures are at $167.5 million, but come alongside a recommended budget surplus (considering operating deficit and use of reserves) of $1.3 million.
“I think when you chat with people who do this for a living, people who run city or municipal operations, and in particular, financial planning, they have said these have been two of the most difficult years that they can remember in the history of their lives,” Mr. Jordan said. He proceeded to give kudos to the financial department, and said, “It weighs heavily on everybody to have to make some decisions in bad times…”
Mayor Murillo echoed praises of the staff, saying, “The decrease in sales tax and bed tax was very hard on us, hard on our residents and hard on our businesses, and it feels good to adopt this budget today knowing that we are coming into a clearing of sorts and things are only getting better from here.”
See Thursday’s News-Press for a follow-up on the appeal of the 21-unit, mixed-use development at 825 De La Vina St.