Long Beach neighborhood groups will no longer be able to block a permit from being issued for a permanent parklet after the City Council voted Tuesday night to amend its municipal code to make community input just one part of the process, rather than the deciding factor.
The council had requested the change to the code in December because the language allowed for community groups like neighborhood associations and others to block a permit from being issued by opposing a business’s application for a permanent outdoor parklet.
Changes made Tuesday will now require the city to post public notices that a business is applying for a permanent parklet, similar to when a business is applying for an alcohol license, and any opposition received during that 30-day noticing period would trigger a hearing before the City Council.
The council will be the ultimate decision-maker in parklet permits that are sent to a hearing before the body.
Councilmember Kristina Duggan, who was recently elected to represent the city’s 3rd City Council District, where some residents have been vocal in their opposition to the proliferation of parklets on Second Street in Belmont Shore, said the changes would allow people to be able to come to City Hall and advocate with their own voice.
“I don’t think it’s good practice to give veto power to one group,” Duggan said of the previous wording of the municipal code.
Temporary parklets spread across the city during the pandemic as restaurant owners and other businesses tried to keep their businesses open while complying with state and regional bans on having customers indoors.
At one point, the city had nearly 130 temporary parklets, but all of them will be taken down by the end of January.
Public Works Director Eric Lopez said Tuesday that the city had issued seven permits for permanent parklets to businesses that had temporary installations, and there are another 26 businesses that turned in applications that are under review. Seventeen of those are in the 3rd City Council District.
Permanent parklets would have to meet more stringent design and construction standards that were laid out in a 2018 law adopted by the council that allowed for permanent installations to be built in the city. However, the locations where they can be built are limited by a number of things like the pedestrian safety and whether the parklet would interfere with access to public utilities or storm drains.
While a hearing during the noticing period would be triggered by any opposition at no cost, anyone who decides after that period to appeal a recommendation to approve or deny a permit would need to pay city fees that could range between $1,000 and $2,310.
The vote to change the language came over objections from some residents who said businesses were being given too much power and were being gifted public parking spaces for their own financial gain.
Julie Dean, president of the Belmont Shore Residents Association, said the parklets have created a number of accessibility issues and pose a potential safety issue to people walking on the sidewalk who have to contend with waitstaff crossing the sidewalk to deliver food and drinks to people dining in the parklets.
“The sidewalks do not belong to the businesses, but they’re acting like it, in addition to taking over the parking spaces,” Dean said. “If these restaurants, bars and gyms want more outdoor dining space, they should have leased a piece of land with more outdoor dining space. Instead, they’re just being greedy and using the free land of our city.”