Traffic mitigation efforts allowed to continue, draft public nuisance designation approved
After hours-long back-and-forth among lawyers for the city, Chick-fil-A and State Street property owners, the Santa Barbara City Council continued its public hearing on whether the fast-food restaurant is a public nuisance, allowing mitigation efforts to continue.
However, the council unanimously still moved toward a potential public nuisance designation.
During its Tuesday agenda meeting, the council directed the city attorney to prepare a draft ordinance with nuisance findings. However, it continued the public hearing until June 7 and directed staff to work with Chick-fil-A and property on remedy recommendations — the latter dubbed a “menu of remedies” by Councilmember Eric Friedman.
The council also directed Chick-fil-A to update the council in a letter by March 11 on mitigation efforts and send monthly reports on traffic service.
“It is important to understand we’re trying to cure, not trying to punish,” Mayor Randy Rowse said.
Tuesday’s much-anticipated quasi-judicial proceeding gave the three parties the opportunity to present evidence to the council regarding whether the fast-food restaurant’s drive-thru constitutes a public nuisance and warrants action.
At issue is the drive-thru line at the 3707 State St. restaurant becoming so long it backs up into the street, causing traffic and safety concerns.
“State Street is one of the city’s most important streets for moving people and goods,” Derrick Bailey, a transportation engineer for the city, said. “It was never intended to operate with significant blockage.”
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon said Chick-fil-A has potentially outgrown its site, a problem that cannot be mitigated by the city or company.
“This is not about the goodness of the company or the goodness of the owners and certainly not about the goodness of the employees,” Councilmember Sneddon said. “Chick-fil-A has a good problem here. They are so successful, they have outgrown their site. It’s possible they were oversized for that site, to begin with.”
Chick-fil-A representatives asked the council to postpone a nuisance designation and give it time to implement abatement measures, some of which are already in place, and the ability to work with the city.
A plan presented to the council, which Chick-fil-A representatives vowed would successfully address the queuing issue, would add a thru-line, rearrange parking spaces and add a forced right turn exit out of the restaurant. Representatives also said the queue back-up has decreased in recent months as well.
“On behalf of myself, Chick-fil-A and the many team members, we sincerely regret that this traffic situation has come to this point and heartily wish to work in good faith with the city to resolve this matter once and for all,” Travis Collins, the owner and operator of the restaurant, said. “We believe we do have solutions, several of them.”
But Councilmember Sneddon suggested these changes wouldn’t fix the problem, saying “there’s a tolerance of the patrons of Chick-fil-A for how far back they’re willing to queue.”
Those in support of the fast-food restaurant also stressed the importance of the drive-thru option during the COVID-19 pandemic when indoor dining was shuttered or while residents wish to social distance.
But representatives for the city said the drive-thru is still continuing to be a problem for drivers on State Street, posing a potential safety risk.
“There is no constitutional right to operate a business in a manner that creates a public nuisance,” Dan Hentschke, the assistant city attorney, said.
Councilmember Mike Jordan said he’s seen many near misses of car and bicycle accidents in that section of State Street, noting the council’s mission should be to address problems that hinder public health, safety and welfare — not when a problem becomes more severe.
“People do not have to die because of a traffic accident before you declare it a public nuisance,” Mr. Hentschke also said.
In other business Tuesday, Sam Furtner, the mobility coordinator with the Public Works Department, said the city was “pleased” with the progress of the BCycle e-bike pilot program thus far — even as the program has faced some COVID-19 and operational challenges.
Since the pilot program launched in January 2021, 50 different stations with 140 white electric bikes have been implemented across Santa Barbara, and about 15,000 riders have taken about 81,000 trips, Mr. Furtner said.
Of those who have utilized the e-bike system, 68.5% have been member riders as opposed to walk-up users such as tourists.
There have been about 100 documented instances of bikes being stolen or not returned correctly. Three e-bikes were not recovered, according to the presentation given to the council Tuesday.
Additionally, there have been three reported collisions: In two instances, the riders lost control and were transported to the hospital; in the third accident, the rider was uninjured but was hit by a vehicle, according to the staff report.
The program has experienced delays due to network connectivity issues and installation complications because of the global COVID-19-related semiconductor shortages.
“It was rocky at the beginning. This is a pilot, and I think we’ve learned a lot,” Councilmember Sneddon said. “I think it’s a successful program, much more successful than I initially thought.”
The pilot program is slated to last three years and offers an option for lower-income individuals who may not be able to afford monthly or annual passes.
The city council meeting began with a moment of silence for the people of Ukraine.