Chick-fil-A Needs to Stop

Drive-Through Backs Traffic onto State Street

The line of customers waiting at Chick-fil-A's drive-through often goes into State Street. | Credit: Larry Bickford

Santa Barbara’s Chick-fil-A is owned by McCollum, LLC of Atlanta, Georgia, which has little interest in our community other than our dollars. The ka-ching of their cash registers is far more important to them than any crash-bang of our auto accidents. The Chick-fil-A drive-through has been an issue since its inception many years ago. The on-going hassles continued this February 2021, when Chick-fil-A filed an application for expanding their facilities. Their application (PLN2021-00093) said:

“Existing Chick-fil-A restaurant to complete a remodel of their site. Remodel to include widening the entrance driveway apron, convert the 1-lane drive-thru to a new 2-lane drive-thru, construct a retaining wall along the southerly side of the property, provide a new storm water BMP, and other site improvements.”

This application is in violation of our municipal code on drive-throughs which states:
“New or expanded drive-through facilities are prohibited. There shall be no new floor area, and no intensification of use on existing structures developed with a drive-through facility. Existing financial institution drive-through facilities may be replaced in kind with automated teller machines provided the number of drive-through lanes does not increase.”

When the planning staff initially reviewed this application, they acknowledged the problem, noting that “improvements to drive thrus (sic) are prohibited.” There are also issues with the San Roque Creek and setbacks.

In April, the City Attorney’s Office decided that this expansion wasn’t really an expansion and that doubling the number of lanes from one to two wasn’t an intensification of use on existing structures. And that even though banks can’t add additional drive-through lanes, it’s perfectly fine for Chick-fil-A.

“The City Attorney’s Office has determined that the project does not rise to the level of an expanded use of the nonconforming drive-through as described in section 30.185.160 for drive-through facilities … “

It is possible that the city was in hopes that allowing this unlawful expansion might ameliorate the illegally blocked sidewalk, the illegally blocked street, the illegally blocked driveway at Rusty’s Pizza, the inaccessible bus stop, and prevent future bicycle fatalities due to the blocked bicycle lane.

Despite the fact that the February application was never approved and its status is listed as incomplete, Chick-fil-A has gone ahead and created a second on-site drive-through lane. But surprise! The traffic congestion has not gone down, and the long line of cars still persists. If only Chick-fil-A and city attorneys had read the Wikipedia article entitled “Induced Demand.”

Since the 1940s, planners have recognized that adding more traffic lanes does not reduce congestion. Adding more lanes merely encourages new drivers to join in the fray. And so, with this new “induced traffic,” the long line of cars and its accompanying nightmares continue.

With this in mind, astonishingly, Chick-fil-A is now in the process of adding a third lane and are in plan review for that. A city Public Works employee thought adding a lane could solve the queueing problem, which he blamed on customers not obeying vehicle codes. Has the city never heard of “if you build it, they will come”?

It is past time for the city and Chick-fil-A to acknowledge the reality of this situation. It is impossible to accommodate a large number of cars on a very small lot. It is impossible to have both a popular drive-through at this location and maintain safety and legally required accessibility. Unless Chick-fil-A has an on-site atom compressor, this number of cars just isn’t going to fit.

Chick-fil-A’s never ending “we’re working with the city” and the city’s never ending “we’re working with Chick-fil-A” is delaying the inevitable: the only long-term solution to this long-term problem is to revoke permission for the drive-through. Hopefully soon. Hopefully in my lifetime.

Note: Chick-fil-A may be in the process of resubmitting their proposal. If you would like to be kept updated you can email William Russell (WRussell@santabarbaraca.gov) and ask to be added as an interested party for PLN2021-00093.

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