Long Beach parklet program poised to end with few businesses seeking permanent installations

After two years of allowing diners to eat outside in an effort to avoid being infected with COVID-19, most of Long Beach’s parklets could soon be gone if the City Council allows a city program to lapse at the end of the month.

Leaders will vote on a proposal that would allow extensions to business owners hoping to make their outdoor setups permanent, which would require investing in durable designs and materials and having the spaces insured. But about 80% of the city’s temporary parklets could be removed with the end of the program.

Of the 130 temporary installations put up by businesses across the city, just 25 owners have expressed interest in converting them into permanent structures, according to a memo from Public Works Director Eric Lopez.

Parklets owners that submit plans to make their installations permanent could be given until the end of September to keep their temporary spaces as long as they submit an application to the city by Aug. 1.

The outdoor seating and dining areas have been credited with helping some restaurants weather some of the worst times of the pandemic, specifically when county and local health orders forbade people from dining inside to help slow transmission of COVID-19.

However, others have cast the temporary program as a public safety issue that has made it difficult for people with disabilities to navigate crowded sidewalk spaces, and as a public nuisance, which has created quality of life issues for neighboring homes through loud noises from diners and eliminating parking spaces.

On Tuesday, the council could approve a recommendation to let the program sunset at the end of June, a deadline it had set last September when it approved another extension as case rates and the test positivity rate were still relatively high.

Long Beach health department data shows that as of Friday, Long Beach has a daily case rate of 21.1 cases per 100,000 residents and a test positivity rate of 11.9%—numbers that have slowly been rising over the past few weeks due to the emergence of new variants of the virus.

Jennifer Rice Epstein, a spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services, said that because indoor dining is currently allowed under the existing health order, a move to do away with some outdoor dining options isn’t a health department issue.

However, because the city is still considered in the yellow tier of the CDC’s transmission guidelines, it does recommend people to be cautious.

“We still really urge people to take common-sense measures when they’ve been in close quarters indoors with people when they don’t know the status of everyone,” Rice Epstein said.

While county health officials have recently discussed the possible return of indoor masking requirements because of high case rates, Rice Epstein said she was unaware of any similar discussions by Long Beach health officials. However, the city did just extend masking requirements for public transit.

The City Council will meet June 14 at 5 p.m. for its regular meeting. It will also convene its Charter Amendment Committee to discuss placing two measures on the November ballot that could merge the city’s water and gas departments and overhaul the city’s police complaint commission.

Belmont Shore parklets expected to phase out amid low demand for permanent structures

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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.