Santa Barbara May Scale Down Outdoor Dining Areas

The city will consider adjustments to its outdoor dining policy after the fire department expressed concerns about access for emergency vehicles.

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January 31, 2022, 6:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Social distancing restrictions imposed during the pandemic forced cities to rapidly implement outdoor dining programs, and Santa Barbara, with its bustling downtown restaurant scene, was no exception. Now, at the Fire Department's request, the city may remove or alter around 25 outdoor seating areas approved under the COVID-19 program. As John Palminteri reports, "The Santa Barbara City Fire Department says it needs 20-feet down the middle of the street in the area where they only have a space of 14 and a half feet," a number that the fire department previously agreed to.

The city is now evaluating the regulations for its outdoor dining program and plans to amend the rules to address concerns from first responders, business owners, and local residents, as well as other design changes for the city's downtown.

Although the concept of parklets—public or private seating or dining areas created from curbside or surface parking—has been around for years, COVID-19 led to an explosion of "pandemic dining" projects, with cities scrambling to create regulations and balance the need for more outdoor dining and seating with traditional street uses and user safety concerns. Cities around the country embraced "al fresco dining" and "open streets," inadvertently creating models for what could be permanent fixtures of future cities, where street space is reimagined to serve a broader segment of users and purposes.

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