Mayor hosts roundtable of restaurateurs to discuss expansion of dining spaces

Mayor Robert Garcia, who recently announced plans to expand dining space for restaurants as they face the possibility of reopening at a limited capacity, hosted a group of 15 restaurateurs to hear directly what they need and would like to see as talks about reopening begin.

“I like hearing directly from business owners because they always have the best ideas,” Garcia said. “They have the businesses, they know the business, they are intelligent when it comes to how they hope to move forward. It’s also a way to let them feel like they are a part of the process—that we’re not working in a silo—and a way for me to say, ‘Hey, we’re not just sitting on this. We’re doing something and we’re trying to be as proactive as possible.'”

While initial discussions were more formally focused on expanding sidewalk dining, restaurateurs were clear in their meeting with Garcia that they want more than alfresco dining. They said they want to use street space, parking lots and create more parklets—an idea that has been enacted in cities across the country and globe as metros begin to reopen.

“This is about what neighborhoods and their businesses want,” Garcia said. “And if I had my way, we would try this in every capacity possible, not just expanding sidewalk dining. We want to open streets, parking lots, public spaces, parklets, this is about reimagining public space. And, given that, this has to include the public. We can’t just create these spaces for businesses alone, which is why I am also encouraging open street projects for recreational and pedestrian use.”

One way to help restaurants in the future? Go alfresco by opening roads and lots to diners

In a memo sent to members of the City Council on May 8, Garcia directed City Manager Tom Modica to create an open streets initiative to “explore ways to open more public space throughout Long Beach for increased outdoor activities, safer access to public transit, and stronger economic recovery, all while maintaining appropriate social and physical distancing.”

The initiative suggested in the memo—signed onto by four councilmembers—will come before the council on May 19 and is part of what Garcia said in a tweet was an opportunity to “reimagine our public spaces.” Garcia singled out restaurants as being key to that reimagining, saying a time was coming when “folks can safely dine on sidewalks.”

Garcia said that staff is prepared to present to the City Council an initial breakdown of what is possible next Tuesday and he will continue to host roundtables of various businesses beforehand.

“The mayor seems to be on the same page as us,” said Luis Navarro, owner of multiple restaurants and one of the participants on the call. “He understands that the hospitality industry is on life support and that, in order for restaurants and bars to survive, tons of policies must change.”

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor, and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food and culture to transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 16 nominations and two additional wins for Best Political Commentary for his work at KCET and Best Blog for Longbeachize, a section of the Long Beach Post. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.