Mayor Susan Gorin | Ban All New Drive-thru Facilities

Policy on drive-through businesses will wait until spring

Seth Duncan of Caffino Drive-Thru at Mendocino and Pacific Avenue takes an order, Thursday. Santa Rosa officials are considering regulating the number of drive-through businesses in the city to cut down on car emissions.


Published: Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 7:44 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, September 24, 2009 at 7:44 p.m.

They may be a convenience for those on the move, but drive-up windows for new fast-food restaurants, banks and even pharmacies could one day be banned in Santa Rosa.

The city’s Planning Commission Thursday agreed to send a memo to the City Council urging it to consider the fate of drive-through facilities as soon as possible.

Deputy Community Development Director Marie Meredith said she expects the council to tackle the issue next spring once more pressing planning matters — development of greenhouse gas policies, big box development guidelines and downtown zoning issues — are completed.

Mayor Susan Gorin said Thursday that drive-up windows have been on the city’s radar for at least two years as city leaders have sought a more pedestrian- and environmentally-friendly city.

“We have a community-wide goal to reduce greenhouse gases by 20 percent,” Gorin said. “We will never get there if we continue to say to retailers you can have a drive up window and the 15 to 20 people in line can have their cars idling while their windows are rolled up and their air conditioning is going.”

Gorin said she eventually wants the city to ban all new drive-up facilities.

“Do we want to emphasize people’s ability to sit in their cars to access services or should they be encouraged to park, get out, and do their shopping in the store,” she said.

Thursday’s Planning Commission discussion was triggered by the firestorm of protests over In-N-Out Burger’s hard-fought but successful effort to win approval last month to open a retail outlet on the northwest corner of Steele Lane and County Center Drive.

Most of the controversy focused on In-N-Out’s request to include a drive-up window, which raised howls of protest from neighbors and clean-air advocates over the amount of exhaust-spewing emissions the cars would generate, as well as noise and traffic congestion in the area.

The project won unanimous support only after Commissioner Nick Caston conditioned approval upon In-N-Out promises to send out personnel to take orders by hand when the line of idling cars got too long, and with a company commitment to erect a sign asking waiting motorists to turn off their idling engines.

The issue of drive-up windows has become a concern in Santa Rosa because they conflict with city efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, commissioners said Thursday.

“It’s my feeling we are in a position that we have to process projects that go against our broader policies,” Caston said Thursday.

Caston suggested recommending that the city “hold off on drive-through applications” until a policy on drive-up facilities is created.

But Commissioner Scott Bartley responded, “What you’re talking about is a moratorium and that is a pretty significant act,” a comment that drew support from other members of the Planning Commission.

Commissioner Michael Allen agreed a moratorium is too drastic but said he’d like to get the issue of what types of drive-through businesses, if any, may be acceptable before any more applications come before the commission.

“We need to get this resolved before more come through the pipeline,” he said.

Senior planner Joel Galbraith said only one drive-thru proposal is expected to come forward before an evaluation of drive-up businesses is undertaken in the spring.

Despite some environmental shortcomings, some commissioners said some drive-through facilities may be more acceptable than others.

“Pharmacies are a good use of drive-throughs because they allow ill people to stay in their cars,” said Commissioner Patti Cisco.

Commissioner David Poulson said the convenience of drive-up windows, particularly for senior citizens and families, cannot be ignored.

“It’s quite hard in certain periods of your life to get out of your car,” he said.

The drive-through issue has sparked similar debates in other Sonoma County cities, some of which have made it tougher for such facilities to locate in their city.

Cotati has only one drive-up window, a Walgreen’s Pharmacy.

Cotati Community Development Director Marsha Sue Lustig said the council banned drive-up windows in most of the city about eight years ago because of efforts to keep Cotati pedestrian-oriented and because of the noise and traffic problems they generate.

It wasn’t based on global warming, she said: “We didn’t even know that word at that time.”

Lustig said drive-ups are only allowed in two specific areas — along Gravenstein Highway and Redwood Drive that fronts Highway 101 — that cater to motorists leaving the freeway.


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