SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - Hearing from the disabled community loudly for months, Santa Barbara city leaders quickly acted in the last month to clear sidewalks from obstructions.
Some were created when tables, chairs, signs and heaters were added as part of the emergency COVID-19 economic changes. That allowed more outside seating on sidewalks, patios and parklets.
But the effort apparently came without full compliance.
Those who were mobility and visually challenged spoke out at city council meetings, wrote letters and threatened legal action.
They asked for Santa Barbara to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
For many businesses such as restaurants, parklets, outdoor seating has been a lifeline to stay open. But for those with disabilities some of those structures have created another obstacle for them to navigate.
At one recent meeting, resident Matt Lowe said, "I'm a blind, visually impaired person, and these tables in front of restaurants, I can't tell you how many times I've walked into them, whether it's a sign or a person, a planter, a table. It's very frustrating."
Some of the business owners have been able to work with the new letter advising them to clear their dining areas on the sidewalks. Some are applying for city permits for outside dining where it fits, and allows for full access.
In some cases, the sidewalks are too tight, and in others there's room, but also challenges from landscaping, newspaper racks, bike racks, underground vault heaters, and parking pole signs that make the measurement difficult.
Tuesday night many of the downtown promenade businesses were cleared of obstructions.
One had a live band on the sidewalk and a full table next to it with only a small amount of room for pedestrians. Ironically, one of the persons at the table had a leg up in a cast, and was mobility challenged.
The city is also going to make sure special ramps for those in wheel chairs are installed and have the angle that's up to code.
There will be a follow up to make sure there's compliance and it will work with existing groups such as the Downtown Organization to keep the message and its priority level in front of the businesses impacted.