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Businesses get in person meetings on dining areas changes in Santa Barbara for fire access

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - In less than a month, Santa Barbara's downtown promenade area will be changing for safety reasons.

The popular spot for dining and strolling has been a life saver for many businesses that suffered losses during the COVID pandemic or were not allowed to have indoor seating for many months.

The designs however are getting a make over. The parklets and patios in many cases, are not providing the adequate room necessary for fire equipment, crews, working areas, and for multiple agency vehicles at a major incident.

The city has set a March 8 deadline to remedy the issue.

City staff is meeting over the next two weeks, in person, to go over the measurements and requirements with the owners. The city council recently stressed the need for adequate notice and communication from the top down on this issue. That includes council members, staff and affected businesses.

In about 25 sites, this will mean a reconstruction project and the loss of tables and chairs.

Supervising Transportation Planner Jessica Grant has maps for each block in the promenade when she meets with business or building owners. She says, "the purpose of the meeting is to discuss  how best to observe the 20 foot fire lane."

Some locations may be taken out entirely, according to a few business owners who will return to their pre-COVID operations, as is.

The cost to build he outside areas has ranged from a few thousand dollars to, as one owner said, in excess of $50,000. Some of the seating sites are casual chairs, tables and rope dividers. Some are welded and wooded structures with fire pits at the tables.

Markings are on the ground to show where the cuts will have to be to allow access.

In three locations where the tallest buildings are, including the Granada Theatre and the Balboa Building, fire engines and ladder trucks will need to have access right up to the curb line in order to get up to the top floors.

The city fire marshal has made presentations with illustrations to show where the equipment will need to go and why it is not efficient to have a mixed access path, or a flow that meanders. The goal is to have a clear, straight route.

There are business owners who are asking to move their platforms on to the sidewalk instead of cutting them up. That, at times, gets into landscaping or on top of utility boxes.

Overall there will be 45 locations reviewed, but some do not have major structural issues, and it may mean just relocating tables, chairs and heaters. At some locations they are taken in at night and brought out during the day.

Many business owners were also concerned about issues ahead including future portability rules and design regulations such as umbrella colors, lighting and height rules.

Birte Andersen from Andersen's Bakery has less than a foot to adjust but it will take some reconstruction of a railing, and the relocation of some planters. At least one table will need more room for wheelchair access.

"I do want to thank the city for letting us do this.  When it happened, it was bam, wham, slam, here you go," she said. But overall "I don't think people will sit inside.  I think it will take another year."

At recent meetings, suggestions from long time business owners suggested a plan going forward to have dining on the sidewalks and everything else, such as pedestrians and bikes, in the street.

Not all of the businesses affected are restaurants. One retail site where rugs are sold will have to carve up its structure.

The city staff will also be looking at short term "quick fixes" to some of the aesthetic look to the promenade, that won't require long range meetings, and where funding is already available.

Article Topic Follows: Money and Business

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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