Parklets to Stay on Coast Village Road
At a hearing on Tuesday, the Santa Barbara City Council considered modifying aesthetic guidelines related to the outdoor dining in the public right-of-way on State Street, and on parklets in other areas of the city, including Coast Village Road. Many in the community were under the impression that the meeting was to consider removal of the parklets, which was inaccurate.
“I think some misinformation got out that the city was trying to remove all the parklets from State Street and that’s not accurate,” said Mayor Cathy Murillo at the beginning of the meeting.
Parking Programs Supervisor Sarah Clark explained to the City Council that the parklets and outdoor dining program were constructed very quickly in response to the pandemic, and the program was only expected to last a few months. The Emergency Economic Recovery Ordinance that was adopted in May 2020 allowed for restaurants to add outdoor parking without licensing requirements, as a tool to allow businesses to survive when they weren’t able to open indoors. That ordinance has been extended through March 8, 2022, allowing the parklets and outdoor dining to remain for the next eight months, despite the official reopening of California on June 15.
Members of the community have raised concerns about accessibility for those with disabilities, impact to surrounding businesses, emergency access, and cohesive aesthetics, and city staff brought the issues to City Council to discuss some possible changes to guidelines to address some of the concerns. Since the approval of the emergency ordinance, travel on sidewalks is more difficult, and some retail businesses say the outdoor dining and parklets have made their businesses less visible. On Coast Village Road, the parklets have utilized 27 parking spots and outdoor dining has been added on sidewalks, which has caused increased parking and pedestrian accessibility.
City staff recommended not allowing construction of new parklets and increased aesthetic guidelines for existing parklets, including no overhead elements like lighting and roofs, appropriate patio furniture rather than plastic furniture or interior tables and chairs utilized outdoors, and the prohibition of certain materials. It was also recommended that restaurants along State Street clear the sidewalks to accommodate accessibility guidelines.
“The large majority of the parklets are non-compliant with the current guidelines,” Clark said.
Over a dozen members of the public spoke at the meeting, including restaurant owners, community members, and residents with disabilities, all with varying opinions about the parklets and outdoor dining.
One thing was for certain: The vast majority of public commenters were in favor of enforcing ADA guidelines, which includes clearing the sidewalks along State Street and other areas of the city unless a restaurant has previous license to have tables on the sidewalks.
“To the restaurateurs: the disabled community can be your best friend or your worst nightmare. If you embrace our civil right to come enjoy your restaurant, you won’t have any resistance from us in this process. Do the right thing! The city of Santa Barbara has given you a wonderful gift, and you are using it to trample on the civil rights of others. It’s unacceptable,” said public commenter Nick Koonce.
“I would really like to enjoy downtown, and not feel like I have to struggle,” said another public commenter with visual impairment.
“I want us to get out of the way as best we can and allow our businesses to recover,” said councilmember Meagan Harmon.
“I’m not in favor of anybody having to take anything down,” stated councilmember Kristen Sneddon. “The one place we can’t experiment with is ADA compliance. It’s inexcusable. We can still promote businesses being open, but we need to clear the sidewalks. We really want downtown to be for everyone.”
The Council ultimately agreed to not adopt staff recommendations, except for accessibility.
“It’s just not the time to put more financial burdens on these businesses,” said councilmember Eric Friedman.
Ultimately the Council agreed to the clearing of the sidewalks of non-licensed tables and chairs, the enforcement of all ADA guidelines, and agreed to not impose changes to the already existing enclosures and parklets. “Things will have to be standardized eventually,” said Murillo, “but not right now, so close to the end of the pandemic.”
We’ll have much more on the parklets in future editions.