Santa Barbara board criticized for abstaining in Chick-fil-A vote
Santa Barbara City Council members are calling for the resignations of some appointed members of an architectural review board who cited political reasons when declining to vote on minor changes to an incoming Chick-fil-A restaurant.
The Architectural Board of Review already approved Chick-fil-A's plans to replace a Burger King on State Street, but when asked to OK a revised landscaping plan at a Monday meeting, the five members in attendance all abstained from the vote, according to the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Board member Gary Mosel said he abstained for political reasons, citing information he read online about the company's hiring practices. Keith Rivera said he objected to Chick-fil-A's political views.
Two other members said they abstained because they either did not attend a previous meeting or were uncertain about the proposed changes. The final member in attendance, Chris Gilliland, did not say why he declined to vote.
Although the proposal later received administrative approval, the board's move has drawn harsh criticism from residents and elected city officials, the newspaper reported. Three council members have called for the resignations of Mosel, Rivera and Gilliland, saying if the men did not step down from the volunteer board, the council could vote on their removal as early as next week.
"We hope these fellows will see the error of their ways as they breached confidence in the ABR and it's therefore necessary for them to step down," Councilman Frank Hotchkiss, who was the first to call for the board members' resignation, told the News-Press.
Residents have also sounded off on the matter.
"I am astonished, disappointed and enraged," Steve Thomas wrote in a letter to the News-Press. "CEO Dan Cathy's opinion on traditional marriage has nothing to with architecture, nothing to do with approving the minor changes that were already approved by the vice chair, and nothing to do with moving this project forward."
The controversy comes after a series of nationwide protests both for and against the fast-food restaurant, whose chief executive, Dan Cathy, recently made comments opposing gay marriage.
Cathy's remarks prompted several elected officials to denounce the company, saying they would not let Chick-fil-A in their cities. Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider released a statement Tuesday expressing her disagreement with Cathy's stance — "I will not be dining at a Chick-fil-A in Santa Barbara or anywhere else" — but showed support for the restaurant's plans in Santa Barbara.
Chick-fil-A's plans to build in Santa Barbara are "not about gay marriage," she said. "It's about the design of a building, and the approval of the project should be based on those merits alone."
There are "legitimate reasons" members of the architectural board could oppose a project or abstain from a vote, the mayor said, "however to not support a project solely based on personal beliefs would be inappropriate as an ABR member."
According to the city's website, the seven-member architectural board reviews most of the city's development projects. Board members, who are appointed by the City Council, serve four-year terms.
Two members were not at Monday's meeting.
-- Kate Mather
Photo: A line of supporters snaked outside a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Laguna Niguel last week on "Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day," a nationwide day of support for the chain. Credit: Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times