The board delayed a vote on plan changes for a Chick-fil-A restaurant at 3707 State St. after member Gary Mosel said he couldn’t vote for it for “political reasons” and three other members abstained.
Since the project received final approvals earlier this year for its location at the former Burger King location, planning staff approved the patio seating and landscaping proposal instead of having it wait two weeks and go back before the ABR.
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 board’s actions prompted Mayor Helene Schneider and other City Council members to issue statements explaining that the review board’s decisions should be based on design merit, not personal political opinion. Councilmen Frank Hotchkiss and Randy Rowse have called for resignations, but no action has been taken by the council. Its next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 11.
During public comment at Monday’s ABR meeting, people called for resignations or at least apologies to maintain the integrity of the design review board.
“The job of the ABR is to ensure code compliance and compatibility with the General Plan,” attorney Peter Cruz said, adding that applications don’t ask questions about an applicant’s political or religious views because they aren’t relevant.
He argued that the reason for disapproval by some members was said to be Cathy’s statements, so members then made the unsubstantiated assumption that the Santa Barbara location would discriminate in its hiring or customer service.
“ABR has expressed no remorse and offered no apology for its wrong-headed actions,” Cruz said.
He said members should resign or be removed in order to restore the reputation of city government and avoid further embarrassment and legal costs.
Other speakers agreed.
“Do yourselves a favor. You do check your politics at the door,” said Barbara Lynch, adding that members should rule only on what’s in front of them. “If it’s landscaping, so be it. If it’s where a door goes, so be it. But it is not the political viewpoints of the people who are before you that you are to address or even consider.”
H.T. Bryan said the board “lost its reputation and credibility as to competency, objectivity, fairness and understanding their duty.”
Former ABR member Bill Mahan said he learned how to say things were acceptable or not — and explain why — during his tenure, and that the board’s actions on the Chick-fil-A vote were not acceptable, because “political, religious, social and sexual issues aren’t relevant to design.”
“There’s a saying in the military: You salute the rank and not the person,” Mahan said. “In design review, you review the application, not the applicant.”
A lesson can be learned from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the controversy over his tax returns — a problem doesn’t just go away, Mahan said, so something has to be done to fix it.
ABR member Chris Gilliland read a statement after public comment explaining his choice to abstain from the vote. His decision was to “avoid having personal feelings get in the way of an unbiased project review, as they are entitled to receive,” he said. The board’s ethics training up until that point had stressed the importance of avoiding personal or financial conflicts of interest, so he recused himself.
Since then, city attorney Steve Wiley has clarified what constitutes a conflict of interest for board and commission members in the city, so Gilliland believes the situation is rectified.
He said he didn’t mean to discredit the review process and plans to continue serving the city until his term expires at the end of the year.
Stephanie Poole and Kirk Gradin, who also abstained, said their decisions had nothing to do with political motives.
Since the only person who reviewed the landscaping and patio proposal — Paul Zink — was absent, Poole said she had additional questions and couldn’t ask them. She said it was unfortunate that all the abstentions happened at once, but that’s just the way it happened.
Gradin said he had been absent the day it was originally reviewed, so he abstained as well. He confirmed with Wiley and city planner Betty Weiss that it was standard procedure to do so, he said Monday.