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Santa Barbara could declare Chick-fil-A drive-through a public nuisance

The exterior of a Chick-fil-A location
Santa Barbara is on the verge of declaring its Chick-fil-A on State Street a public nuisance because of the long lines of cars that queue at the popular fast-food location.
(Google)

A lone Chick-fil-A in Santa Barbara has been ruffling the feathers of local residents as hungry customers queuing up for their waffle fries and chicken sandwiches snarl traffic. City officials have lined up their own response: possibly declaring the business a public nuisance.

Chick-fil-A has operated at the location since 2013 and draws a steady stream of customers whose vehicles block driveway entrances to nearby businesses, jam up the bicycle lane, block the sidewalk and force city buses and emergency vehicles to detour around the area, according to public planning reports. The city has been in talks with the store’s operators for years and in 2020, the city recommended Chick-fil-A hire a security firm to manage traffic at the location.

City officials say the drive-through line increases the risk for traffic collisions and injuries to pedestrians. A city traffic report said at its peak, the drive-through line can block one lane of State Street for as long as 90 minutes on the weekdays and as long as 155 minutes on Saturdays.

On March 1, the Santa Barbara City Council weighed traffic reports and complaints from residents and a response from Chick-fil-A’s representatives.

Council Member Kristen Sneddon said the restaurant probably outgrew its current site on State Street, as reported by the Santa Barbara Press-News.

“This is not about the goodness of the company or the goodness of the owners and certainly not about the goodness of the employees,” Sneddon said at the meeting. “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.”

At the same meeting, Travis Collins, who operates and owns the Santa Barbara Chick-fil-A , said he’s working on several solutions.

“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,” Collins said.

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The City Council agreed to give Chick-fil-A an additional 90 days to present its solutions before a vote is taken to designate the site as a public nuisance.

Residents who live near the site believe the city and the fast-food chain did not step up their efforts until just a few years ago, even though traffic has been an issue since the business first opened.

“In the past, it felt like the complaints were taken half-seriously,” resident Rick Closson told The Times when reached by phone. “Over the years, you’ve had Chick-fil-A putting together their fixes that really did not do much to fix the traffic problem. But then you have the city coming forward with a possible nuisance title, and the corporation is now saying, ‘Oh my goodness, please just give us more time to solve this.’”

Past fixes have included adding extra drive-through lines, pushing online food orders and, in recent months, hiring a third-party firm to control the flow of traffic during peak hours. Chick-fil-A has also hired more employees inside its restaurant, posted signs to tell customers where to drive with a hotline number for customers to give their feedback. The restaurant is also looking into using a nearby parking lot for its employees’ cars, according to Chick-fil-A.

“At our very core, Chick-fil-A strives to serve not only our guests, but our communities at large,” Collins said in a statement provided by Chick-fil-A. “I’ve been grateful for the opportunity to serve our Santa Barbara community for the past few years, including through donations to local nonprofits, food drives and more, and look forward to making a positive impact for many years to come.”

Ronda Hobbs, who lives about a mile from the restaurant, says that the traffic makes it difficult for anyone to drive through the area and that the feeling is that Chick-fil-A might not be held accountable for the big headache it has caused the city.

“My personal concern is after the 90 days, Chick-fil-A is going to say, ‘See, we fixed the problem.’ But the city is not going to hold them accountable for the traffic backup and not take control of the lane,” Hobbs said.

The City Council directed the city attorney to prepare the documents to declare Chick-fil-A a public nuisance and take up the issue again in June. In the meantime, the city and Chick-fil-A will work together to resolve the traffic issue.

“On the council, our primary responsibility is for the protection and preservation of public health, safety and welfare,” Councilman Eric Friedman said. “In this case, there is another high priority for the council when you have a quasi-judicial hearing, and that’s to ensure that a fair hearing takes place and a transparent process. So we have to ensure that we have both of those as we go forward on this.”

Mayor Randy Rowse said Chick-fil-A is a successful business that the city wants to work with to solve the problem. Officials would like to see the issue resolved but cannot allow Chick-fil-A to block traffic and impede bus routes passing through the area, he said.

“We’re trying to cure, not trying to punish,” Rowse told The Times.

Drive-through businesses are rare in Santa Barbara because the city banned the construction of new drive-through businesses more than 40 years ago. Chick-fil-A is grandfathered into its site, which was previously a Burger King drive-through that had nowhere near the same volume of traffic.

But Chick-fil-A could sidestep the entire issue as the corporation is in the early stages of applying for a permit to open a new location just two miles west in the unincorporated part of Santa Barbara County.


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