Parklet Discussion

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   August 23, 2022
The parklets were an emergency measure for restaurants during Covid but their future remains to be seen

Last Friday morning, a group of 30 business owners, property owners, employees, and restaurant patrons gathered at the conference room of Montecito Inn to discuss the fate of parklets on Coast Village Road. A recent letter sent to the Santa Barbara City Council signed by over 25 Coast Village Road business and property owners sparked the meeting, giving all stakeholders an opportunity to share feedback about the parklets. 

Back in February, the City Council adopted an ordinance that provided an additional 22 months, until December 31, 2023, for businesses within city limits – including on Coast Village Road – to operate expanded outdoor business facilities and parklets. The original Emergency Economic Recovery Ordinance was adopted in May 2020 in response to the emerging pandemic, allowing for restaurants to add outdoor seating without licensing requirements, as a tool to allow businesses to survive when they weren’t able to open indoors. That ordinance was then extended through March 8, 2022, allowing the parklets and outdoor dining throughout city limits to remain, despite the official “reopening” of California on June 15, 2021. 

According to staff, as well as Downtown Manager Brian Bosse, who led the Coast Village Road meeting last week, the allowance for businesses to expand temporarily outdoors was a critical response to keep those businesses operational during the COVID-19 pandemic. The extension to continue to allow businesses to operate expanded outdoor facilities was to help ensure their continued success. More than 200 businesses in Santa Barbara and Montecito have benefited from expanding the business areas outdoors. 

But many business and property owners on Coast Village Road argue that the street, which has been lumped in with downtown Santa Barbara regarding parklet guidelines, should be considered separately, given the unique traffic and parking challenges in the Lower Village, as well as impending construction related to the roundabout at Olive Mill Road and the Highway 101 expansion, the former of which is scheduled to begin in November. 

“The conditions that created the parklets’ temporary existence, namely, indoor dining restrictions, haven’t been present since June 15, 2021 and thus are no longer required,” the letter to City Council reads. “Businesses on Coast Village Road and Coast Village Circle do not have the benefit of public parking structures to support themselves as businesses downtown do, resulting in a pre-pandemic parking shortage. Businesses count on public street parking to support them, including restaurants that do not have parklets. This is why removing 20% of the available public street parking spaces on Coast Village Road, to build a handful of ‘temporary’ outdoor parklets, was never sustainable for the majority of businesses in the area, and has exacerbated the preexisting parking shortage, and compromises public safety.” 

Representatives from Tre Lune, Lucky’s, Bree’osh, Folded Hills, and Jim and Jason Copus, owners of Coast & Olive, told City reps at the meeting that the parklets have been an improvement to the community, giving residents and locals the opportunity to dine outside while COVID fears continue. “People are not ready to eat inside,” Jim Copus said. “The pandemic hasn’t gone away,” added Leslie Garofalo, GM of Tre Lune. Leonard Schwartz, GM of Lucky’s, told the group that more than half of their clientele will not eat inside, and said that outdoor seating brings more people to Coast Village Road, which helps all businesses. Jason Copus suggested that the City increase parking enforcement to help battle the parking problem along the road.

Access to parking is one of the main issues being brought up, however concerns around aesthetics, accessibility, and other attributes have also been discussed

Retailers and local business owners including Kimberly Hayes of Maison K, Kevin Frank of K.Frank, Paul Cashman of State Farm, and Brian Brunello of the Liquor & Wine Grotto agreed that the addition of parklets was necessary and beneficial at the height of the pandemic, but that their continued existence has exacerbated a larger parking issue on the road, which has a negative impact on their businesses. “At this point, if we as a team could create more legitimate outdoor dining, then everyone would be happy. We support the restaurants and we want them to flourish, and we want the same for ourselves. But it doesn’t feel equitable at this point,” said Hayes. “People are shopping and they need places to park. I think it’s time we all create a solution that is long term for our community and helps us all,” she added. “The parking is a public space that has been privatized,” added Frank. “Parking is a problem, and it is a problem that we need to face. To lose that much parking, it is a burden on us. We unfortunately do have to move forward from the parklets.” 

Brunello pointed out that the parklets have added 253 restaurant seats to Coast Village, and according to the City’s municipal code, which requires one parking space per three restaurant seats, 84 additional parking spaces would be required to support the additional seating. “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 Coast Village Road today,” he said. 

Several Coast Village property owners were also in attendance, including Jeff Harding, Trey Pinner, and Judy Foreman. “I think the City did the right thing during the pandemic, but the retailers have suffered as well. My clients have suffered through the fires, the flood, and the pandemic. And now they are suffering through the parklets,” Harding said. “My call and my tenants call, is that we need our parking back, and to do that we need to get rid of the parklets. They are not aesthetically pleasing; buildings are obscured, and they block the view that makes it appealing to shoppers and restaurant patrons,” he said. Pinner agreed, and said that everyone wants the restaurants to be successful, but it needs to be on private property instead of in the public right-of-way. Foreman voiced concern over parking and upcoming construction, saying that the traffic issues on Coast Village are soon to be exacerbated. 

One member of the audience said she frequents Coast Village Road often, and has never had a problem parking. She also said the parklets have allowed her and her husband to feel safer eating out during the pandemic. 

Mayor Randy Rowse spoke on behalf of the City Council; Coast Village’s City Council rep, Kristen Sneddon, was notably absent at the meeting. Rowse said that restaurants operating parklets need to be aware and prepared that laws and codes that have been bent in order to support the parklets and outdoor dining, are going to come back at some point. Those include health department and building code standards. Public Works Director Cliff Maurer added that ADA rules are non-negotiable, so making the parklets smaller or fitting seating on sidewalks in order to allow for some more outdoor seating is not possible. He also made mention that no one is entitled to the parklets, and that it is public right-of-way that is being used. 

City staff took notes at the meeting, and has gathered additional data via a public survey. Bosse said that staff will summarize the general feeling of the majority of the community regarding the parklets, and forward it on to the Public Works Director and City Administrator, who has authority on how the Emergency Economic Recovery Ordinance is put into action.

See more community input on the parklet discussion on page 10.


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