Controversy over Chick-fil-A president and chief operating officer Dan Cathy’s anti-same-sex marriage remarks in mid-July made national headlines and spawned protests against and an Appreciation Day for the fast-food chain. The company has made millions of dollars in donations to anti-gay organizations, according to news reports.
The fast-food restaurant is slated to go into the former Burger King location at 3707 State St., and the project received final approvals earlier this year. Patio and landscaping changes to allow for additional outdoor seating were proposed during the advisory board’s July 23 consent calendar — for minor, routine items — but ABR members Chris Gilliland and Keith Rivera stepped down from reviewing this one item out of four.
Planning technician Tony Boughman, assigned as the staff person for ABR, then asked vice chairman Paul Zink to review it after that meeting, which he did.
The full board was asked to ratify the minutes and Zink’s review at Monday’s meeting, but the item met opposition yet again. Boughman told the five members in attendance — Zink and board chairwoman Dawn Sherry were absent — that they merely had to ratify that one item.
“For political reasons I cannot vote on that,” said member Gary Mosel, who also serves as president of the Gay & Lesbian Business Association of Santa Barbara.
Other members abstained — not saying why, or saying they weren’t present for the review — which prompted apparent confusion from Boughman.
“So you all are not willing to approve a very minor change to the patio and landscaping at Chick-fil-A?” he asked.
The board decided to table the item until the Aug. 20 meeting, when the full board would be present.
Their actions prompted Mayor Helene Schneider and other City Council members to issue statements this week explaining that the review board’s decisions should be based on design merit, not personal political opinion.
Schneider said she supports marriage equality, as Santa Barbara County voters have, but that ABR members should make decisions based on the design merits of a project.
“There are legitimate reasons to abstain from voting if a member feels like there is a conflict of interest to the point where they could not make an objective decision; however, to not support a project solely based on personal beliefs would be inappropriate as an ABR member,” she said.
“Recent statements made by some of the ABR members explaining the reasoning behind their decisions have demonstrated an inability or unwillingness to divorce the personal from the professional,” he wrote, asking those members to step down immediately. “Any action short of this only fuels the fire of an already cynical public when it comes to our city’s development process.”
City planner Bettie Weiss said Community Development staff were familiar with the project, which started the planning process in January and progressed normally until now. She added that the outdoor seating changes were consistent with the plan that received final approval.
Her staff evaluated the situation and found that they could grant administrative approval instead of bringing it back to the ABR. It just needed some form of approval from the ABR, which it got by Zink’s review on July 23.
“We decided that, rather than try and bring it back to the ABR, where maybe they would vote for it or maybe not, we had the authority to approve it so we did,” Weiss said.
She said City Attorney Steve Wiley will be sending some form of “legal communication” to board members since this isn’t the city’s normal way of operating, and since there could be legal ramifications.
It’s not the role of planning staff to reprimand or override advisory board members, Weiss noted.
The advisory group’s guidelines and goals include protecting the historic and architectural qualities of Santa Barbara — there is even a colors guide for painting buildings — and “to ensure the review process is fair and consistent both in policy and implementation to allow all who are involved to benefit from the process.”
Weiss said the Santa Barbara Chick-fil-A project is in the “plan check” process and will then get a building permit for construction.