Chick-fil-A Drive-Thru Avoids the Ax

City Council Content with Traffic Improvement Plan

Credit: Larry Bickford

Under intense pressure from Santa Barbara officials to fix its traffic problems or face the closure of its drive-thru, Chick-fil-A has successfully staved off the chopping block. The City Council voted this Tuesday to enact a new traffic management plan for the fast food restaurant rather than declare it a public nuisance, as it had threatened to do in March.

During that hearing, the council gave Chick-fil-A 90 days to work with city staff on strategies to prevent its busy drive-thru line from spilling off the property onto State Street, a hazard that has plagued the area for the better part of a decade. In the last three years alone, police recently said, 24 accidents occurred along the 3700 block, with 11 collisions taking place directly in front of Chick-fil-A.

The new plan ― which includes a designated traffic attendant, reconfigured lanes and parking, and increased staffing during peak hours ― has worked so far, Assistant City Attorney Dan Hentschke told the council. Overflow queues are forming less often and for shorter amounts of time. “The conditions are within range of expected business traffic around town,” he said. A handful of neighbors told the council the improvement was obvious. 

Councilmember Eric Friedman, in whose district the restaurant is located, said he was glad a solution could be reached without invoking the public nuisance ordinance, a move that could have opened up the city to lengthy and expensive litigation. “I do appreciate that Chick-fil-A and our staff have been working collaboratively and that the interim measures appear to be working,” he said. “That moves us in the correct direction.”

Friedman did express frustration, however, that Chick-fil-A had failed to address the issue for so many years, despite countless public complaints and multiple injury accidents. He pointed specifically to a letter sent to the company by City Administrator Rebecca Bjork in January 2020 that requested many of the same traffic improvements the restaurant is only now adopting. “I wish we could have implemented them then, but we didn’t, and that’s the past,” he said.

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Hentschke emphasized that Chick-fil-A’s new traffic plan is enforceable, meaning if it fails to abide by the agreed-upon measures, the restaurant could once again risk losing its drive-thru. The official abatement order also requires Chick-fil-A to provide city officials with monthly reports for the next year, seek additional off-site parking for employees, prevent truck deliveries during peak hours, and not allow armored cars servicing the site to park on State Street. 

Chief traffic engineer Derrick Bailey said he was confident pending improvements to the property, including a widened driveway and third lane for waiting customers, would reduce congestion even further. The designs are working their way through Santa Barbara’s review boards. In response to a question from Friedman about a 30-year-old city ordinance that seemed to prohibit the expansion of drive-thrus, City Attorney Ariel Calonne clarified the law only applied to banks with drive-up ATMs. 

Meanwhile, Chick-fil-A has proposed a second South Coast location for 4765 Calle Real, which is currently occupied by an IHOP. “I believe the location being developed in Goleta will help dilute the market,” said Mayor Randy Rowse, referencing the chain’s immense popularity that draws fried-chicken-sandwich lovers from far and wide. “I’m very optimistic,” he said.

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