Chick-fil-A restaurant on State Street in Santa Barbara.
An employee at the Chick-fil-A restaurant on State Street in Santa Barbara helps direct a customer into the drive-through line. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Restaurant Chick-fil-A has 90 days to fix its traffic problems or face the possibility of being declared a public nuisance, the Santa Barbara City Council decided during a four-hour meeting on Tuesday.

The council plans to tackle the issue again on June 7. In the meantime, City Attorney Ariel Calonne will work on a draft ordinance to initiate a public nuisance finding if Chick-fil-A can’t remedy the situation by June 7. Chick-fil-A also will provide the city with monthly progress reports on its alterations and by March 11 provide a letter to the city outlining all of the changes that it plans to make.

The popular Chick-fil-A, which gets as many as 2,500 customers a day, has been under scrutiny from the city and some San Roque residents because cars back up so far in the drive-through that they sometimes extend out onto State Street.

The 7-0 vote is a small win for Chick-fil-A, whose lawyers and franchise owner convinced the council to back off from declaring the restaurant a nuisance on Tuesday night.

“It is important to understand that we are trying to cure, not necessarily trying to punish,” Mayor Randy Rowse said. “We can be irritative and we can be contemplative of why it hasn’t happened before. Obviously, there seems to be two sides to that argument.”

Rowse said it is important that the city approach the situation sensitively and that it’s not as easy as telling the restaurant to go find a new place.

“For the property owner, as well as the franchisee, it’s a matter of real value,” Rowse said. “Taking away the drive-through, No. 1, might just be a bad idea because maybe people have a longer transaction and still enjoy Chick-fil-A, and we would have a worse problem.”

Rowse said the next 90 days should be focused on finding a remedy to the problem.

“We owe it to the city, as well as everybody, for this time period to really try to find some solutions,” Rowse said.

He added that it would be “an odd time” to try to be punitive on a business coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic because so many people were dining through drive-throughs and avoiding or could not eat inside restaurants.

Chick-fil-A presented a platoon of individuals who attempted to explain that the city would be overstepping its bounds by declaring the restaurant a public nuisance. Joe Billings, an attorney with Allen & Kimbell LLC, who was representing the property owner, said that through the years of talk about Chick-fil-A’s issues, the city had never noticed the property owner — an oversight, he said, that could spark litigation.

“The city has continued to fail to notify or include the owners in important discussions regarding the drive-through,” Billings said. “For example, the city attorney’s office has not even mailed a notice of today’s hearing to one of the owners, an elderly woman, as required by its own resolution and the municipal code.”

Billings said the city’s process is flawed.

“It’s disappointing, and it’s confusing that the city has never included the property owners in any discussions regarding the drive-through,” he said.

Travis Collins, the franchise owner of Chick-fil-A, explained that he and his family live locally and care deeply about the community.

Beth Collins, an attorney with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, represented Chick-fil-A, and explained a cadre of changes that the restaurant has already implemented, and more that it could do, including reconfiguring the drive-through lanes through construction.

Already, the restaurant has hired additional team members to serve customers farther up the line, posted signage throughout the premises to better show entry and exit points and to help guests understand that it is illegal to block sidewalks or stop on the street, and hired third-party traffic control to help with vehicle flow.

Councilman Eric Friedman said “there is a nuisance issue there,” but that he has concerns about inadequate noticing. He said it is important for the city to work with Chick-fil-A to come up with “a menu of remedies.”

“I would like staff to work with Chick-fil-A to understand what would happen if the drive-through was removed and is there the possibility that it could exacerbate the situation,” he said, “because we all know there are other locations that don’t have drive-throughs, they might be different types of businesses, but they come in and they wait, so I want to make sure we make an informed decision.”

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at