Effort to make al-fresco dining permanent in Los Angeles clears major city hurdle

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Friday, April 28, 2023
LA restaurant owners pushing city for permanent al fresco dining
Three years after Los Angeles temporarily expanded sidewalk dining, restaurant owners continue to push for a permanent program.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A three-year effort to make outdoor dining permanent in Los Angeles cleared a major hurdle on Thursday as the city Planning Commission approved the plan and sent it to the City Council.

Los Angeles first expanded al fresco dining at restaurants in the early days of the pandemic - on a temporary basis.

The initial intent was to provide more ventilation and space between diners during the health crisis - but for nearly three years city officials have also been working to make the measure permanent, an effort supported by most restaurant owners and customers.

The process has proven to be complicated, involving revisions to city codes on parking, alcohol permits, fire safety, fee costs and a multitude of other issues.

But the Planning Commission's vote on Thursday now moves the plan forward, to next be considered by the council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee at a later date.

Mayor Karen Bass voiced her approval for the move.

"Al Fresco shows us a better way to support small businesses, create jobs and add vibrancy to our neighborhoods," the mayor said. "This is a huge step in the right direction for restaurants, their workers and their customers. My office will continue working to create a permanent program that helps restaurants and communities thrive."

The vote came after a hearing was held in which business owners again asked the city to keep pushing forward, while trying to keep the new regulations as streamlined and inexpensive as possible - in other words, business-friendly.

"These spaces are about community," said Matt Sutton with the California Restaurant Association. "That's what they're about. And they're very important. The public is very suportive of them. And the safeguards you've put in the ordinance accomplished that sweet spot."

The city has issued some 3,000 temporary authorizations for outdoor dining since the program began in 2020.

The city first started considering making the program permanent in the summer of 2020 as it proved popular with diners.

From 2020: Outdoor dining program may become permanent in effort to help LA's struggling restaurant industry

There might be a light at the end of the tunnel for some Los Angeles restaurants struggling to stay afloat.

Officials say it is taking a long time to draw up new regulations because there are multiple city departments involved, each with their own complex set of guidelines and permitting processes.

Christy Vega with the Casa Vega restaurant in Sherman Oaks said the key need for business owners is for the city to simplify the process for obtaining the various permits for al fresco dining.

"Our biggest ask is one streamlined user-friendly portal with all permit requirements from all departments," Vega said. "We are fighting for the smallest mom-and-pop operator to be easily compliant."

More information about the city's latest version of the al fresco dining proposal can be found here.