LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A new proposal could threaten the L.A. Al Fresco program, which was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and allowed about 2,5000 restaurants to quickly open or expand their outdoor dining areas.
The Al Fresco program was introduced in May 2020 and was quickly adopted by restaurants throughout Los Angeles -- without the usual paperwork, bureaucracy, fees and months of applying.
The initiative allowed dining establishments to generate revenue at a time when patrons were hesitant to eat indoors at restaurants. But now a proposed ordinance would put restrictions in place and force restaurants to apply for expensive new permits for existing patios.
That would cost businesses tens of thousands of dollars each, possibly forcing those that cannot afford it to shut down.
"This is a huge money grab of the city and I feel the city is penalizing restaurants or something they forced us in to," said Christy Vega, the owner of Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks. "It doesn't make a lot of sense and I think it's complete government overreach to tell me that I can't provide this size of patio. They're limiting it to five spaces, which would seat about 15 people."
In a statement provided to the Los Angeles Times, Yeghig Keshishian, L.A. City Planning chief external affairs officer, wrote: "Restaurants will need to apply under the permanent Al Fresco Program in order to continue offering outdoor dining at their establishment. The original intent behind L.A. Al Fresco was to provide restaurant operators the ability to temporarily keep their doors open during the height of the pandemic, as a result of waivers granted through the emergency orders. Now that those emergency orders are being lifted, the City must codify this program to preserve the original intent of L.A. Al Fresco."
Keshishian the proposal is the next step in making the successful program permanent.
"From our perspective, what we're trying to do is level the playing field and make these streamline measures that are intended to cut through the red tape available to existing and future patrons," he said.
Matt Sutton with the California Restaurant Association said most restaurants are still struggling to recover from the devastating closures during the pandemic and said the program truly helps everyone.
"This is more restaurant seating, more customer traffic, it increases employment, it increases sales tax to the city. It's hard to know what is driving us back to that old, regulatory structure of 'This is the way we've always done it,'" he said.
The planning commission is expected to vote on the proposal sometime this Spring. It would then go before the city council.