City moves toward permanent closure of Pine Avenue, possibly other streets

Some of the street closures and parklets that have thrust diners outdoors could become permanent after the City Council voted Tuesday to allow restaurants to operate at least through the end of the year.

Temporary parklets and the conversion of parking lots into open-air dining halls have sprung up across the city since the council first looked to the outdoors as a safe compromise for struggling restaurants during the COVID-19 health pandemic.

The 8-0 vote by the council asks city management to work with interested businesses and business improvement districts to make some of the installations permanent. However, city officials acknowledged that some would be disbanded due to impacts on traffic.

One of the major closures that could become permanent is Pine Avenue between Broadway and Third Street. Councilwoman Mary Zendejas asked that the closure potentially be extended north to Fifth Street in an effort to bring more business to the storefronts currently left out of the open streets program.

“There’s been a great deal of thought put into it and right now we need to focus on giving everyone an opportunity to take advantage of this,” Zendejas said.

The stretch of Pine was originally closed last month, with the city saying that the closure was indefinite. Blocking the street to vehicle traffic has allowed businesses along that stretch of Pine to expand their operations into the street.

While some, like bars and restaurants where patrons tend to spend more time, have reported that business is up, other business owners have reported drops in revenue since the street was closed.

“This street closure has hurt everybody that isn’t a bar,” Bau Tran, owner of 5th Ave. Bagelry told the Long Beach Business Journal this week.

Owners in opposition to the closure have cited the lack of on-street parking that their customers relied on to patronize their shops. A survey put out by the Downtown Long Beach Alliance revealed that 21 of the 28 businesses participating in the open streets program supported the permanent closure of Pine.

The extension of the program through the end of the year, as well as the permanent closure of the segment of Pine, was brought to the council by a recommendation from Mayor Robert Garcia, who said that allowing the operation of the parklets through the end of the year would allow businesses to plan their operations for the next few months with some sort of certainty.

“It has been a complete lifeline,” Garcia said of the open streets program. “Our small businesses have been hurting and this program has been a big lift.”

Continuing the program is projected to cost the city about $300,000, which is expected to be covered through federal relief dollars. How much permanent parklets or the a permanent closure of Pine could cost the city in lost parking fees is unclear.

Editors note: A previous version of this story said one-third of businesses supported a permanent closure of Pine. Only the 28  businesses participating in the program were asked if they supported it and 21 out of 25 that responded said yes. 

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Jason Ruiz has been covering City Hall for the Post for nearly a decade. A Long Beach resident, Ruiz graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a degree in journalism. He and his wife Kristina and, most importantly, their dog Mango, live in Long Beach. He is a particularly avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and the UCLA Bruins, which is why he sometimes comes to work after the weekend in a grumpy mood.