When driving along State Street in Santa Barbara, California, on any given weekday or Saturday afternoon, it's not uncommon to see a long line of cars outside Chick-fil-A, as residents hungry for fatty fried chicken deliciousness head to the beach town's only establishment.
During lunch hours, the drive-through line gets so backed up that it reportedly spills out onto the main street, resulting in traffic delays. It seems that Santa Barbara's Chick-fil-A is so good that people don't mind waiting long times for what is advertised as fast food.
But if the city has its way, the immensely popular chain restaurant may soon be ordered to halt its drive-through business altogether.
What are the details?
In a report filed earlier this month, various city agencies ordered a public hearing on the matter and recommended that the city council take a specific course of action: "Declare that a public nuisance exists at 3707 State Street and direct abatement of the nuisance by cessation of use of the drive-thru facility."
"The City’s Traffic Engineer, Police Chief, and Community Development Director have evaluated the situation and believe that the persistent traffic back-up onto State Street is a public nuisance and that the nuisance is caused by the operation of a drive-through at the Chick-fil-A restaurant," the report stated elsewhere.
Santa Barbara officials claim the regular lunch-hour queue of cars outside the restaurant frequently blocks driveways for other businesses, delays the city's bus system, and increases the risk of collisions for automobiles or cyclists attempting to bypass the line.
According to the San Francisco Gate, a public works study reportedly found that on weekdays, the State Street lane is blocked for 70 to 91 minutes, and on Saturdays, it is regularly blocked for 92 to 155 minutes. And since 2013 — when Chick-fil-A moved in — there have been six rear-end and side-swipe accidents, resulting in four injuries caused by vehicles "stopped in road" near the drive-through.
But some think the city's beef is not so much about traffic but more about the national chain's political views. At least that's the case for Ronda Hobbs, the resident who spurred on the city's recent actions.
"I really detested them for their social positions," she told the Santa Barbara Independent in December, referring to Chick-fil-A's history of donating to pro-traditional-marriage charities.
Hobbs also went on to attack the company for its overall success, saying, "The idea of a big company coming into our community and using the main street of our city as a private parking lot is not acceptable."
Regardless of the motivation, the issue is set to be considered at the June 7 public hearing, when city staff and restaurant operators present their findings to the public and a decision is made. Though the California Globe noted that if a decision is ultimately made to shut down Chick-fil-A's drive-through, multiple lawsuits will undoubtedly follow.
Beth Collins, an attorney representing Chick-fil-A, has already signaled the restaurant is ready to fight.
She told local news outet Noozhawk that a public nuisance declaration would violate the municipal code and California law by "unfairly target[ing] one business, not on the basis of how that business is conducted, but rather on its customer popularity."
As the hearing approaches, Chick-fil-A operators claim they continue to explore ways to mitigate the issue.
Travis Collins, the restaurant’s operator, told Noozhawk he and his team have gone above and beyond in attempts to address the traffic. The outlet reported he has taken several actions over the years, including "hir[ing] additional team members to serve customers further up the line, post[ing] signage throughout the premises to help better show entry and exit points and to help guests understand that it is illegal to block sidewalks or stop on the street, and hir[ing] third-party traffic control to help with vehicle flow."
But according to the city, all "previous attempts to informally remedy the situation have been unsuccessful."