Long Beach will allow some of the city’s outdoor dining parklets and other temporary installations to apply for extensions as they work toward a permanent status, but the outdoor dining program that was one of the earliest policies passed by the City Council to help businesses during the pandemic will largely end at the end of this month.
The vote came after hours of testimony from some residents who said the installations were an eyesore that had become a public nuisance in the form of traffic hazards, loud noises and in some cases, public urination.
Restauranteurs argued that the program had allowed them to survive and that they were still a necessary part of the city’s dining scene given some customers’ preference to still sit outdoors because of the pandemic.
Ryan Hoover, the owner of KC Branaghan’s in Naples and a member of the Long Beach Restaurant Association, said the program was a godsend but with thousands of COVID-19 cases still being reported daily and signals that another mask mandate could be enacted at the county level, the program should be extended.
“I think it’s a little too early to close this program’s door,” Hoover said.
Jeff Cozart, who owns Belmont Athletic Club, said he was 100% supportive of the program at the start of the pandemic but said it’s now time to end the program to free up the vital parking spaces that all businesses on Second Street need for their patrons.
“Now the rest of us need what we all share, back,” Cozart said. “It’s really that simple.”
About 52 parking stalls are currently used by parklets, representing about 10% of all available street spaces along Second Street.
After Tuesday’s vote by the City Council, businesses with existing temporary parklets will have until June 20 to notify the city of their interest in making outdoor setups permanent and the city will notify them by the program end date if their location is eligible, meaning they don’t present any traffic dangers or are blocking public utility lines or other city infrastructure.
Past reports of a business’s parklet being a public nuisance could also factor into the city approving a permit for a permanent parcel. Those who are eligible and have applied by August could operate their temporary structures until September, but ineligible locations and those who don’t express interest in making their sites permanent will have until mid-July to remove them.
Other non-parklet installations, like those set up on public or private parking lots, will be eligible to apply for an extension through the end of September.
At the program’s peak, there were about 300 parklets, sidewalk dining or other outdoor dining setups in parking lots and other non-public areas that allowed businesses to open and serve patrons when health orders placed a ban on indoor dining.
That number has shrunk to 120 such locations, many of which are expected to go away after the program ends at the end of the month.
Joy Contreras, a spokesperson for Long Beach Public Works, said that sites would still have to be evaluated by the department to ensure they’re compliant with laws protecting people with disabilities and that they don’t present a traffic hazard or block other city infrastructure like storm drains or bus stops.
Even then, getting approved for a permanent parklet won’t be as simple as gaining city approval, Contreras said. For parts of the city in the coastal zone, like Belmont Shore, the parklets will also have to get a coastal development permit through a separate process that is administered through the city.
So far, about 30 businesses have expressed interest in wanting to operate a permanent parklet beyond the city’s current program. Seventeen of those are along Second Street in Belmont Shore where the largest concentration of parklets has existed for the past two years—and where the most vocal opponents of the program have called for its end.
“We have more parklets in our 14 blocks than probably anyone in any other district,” said longtime Belmont Shore Business Association director Dede Rossi.
Rossi, who returned to her position in a temporary role earlier this year, and said the temporary parklets have been controversial, as parking-related issues typically are in Belmont Shore.
The parklets have helped some businesses bring in more revenue on the weekends because they have more space to seat people, and Rossi believes that a handful will end up following through with permanent installations.
However, non-restaurant owners want their parking back and feel they’ve given restauranteurs enough of a break over the past two years, Rossi said. Rossi isn’t against permanent parklets but said some businesses shouldn’t be given a leg up while applications are pondered or processed.
“I think it’s only fair, that if one goes, they should all go,” Rossi said of the proposed phase-out of the parklets. “Even if they apply for permits.”
Melinda Cotton has lived in Belmont Shore since 1983 and said that parking has always been an issue, but the introduction of the parklets has exacerbated the parking shortage and forced customers who could park on Second Street to park on the residential streets instead.
“We’re basically the parking lot for Saint and Second, we’ve always been,” Cotton said.
Cotton, a member of the Belmont Shore Residents Association, said that the parklets have also created issues for people with disabilities who sometimes have to navigate sidewalks and for public transit because delivery trucks sometimes use areas designated for buses to park and unload their products to restaurants.
A group named “Parking, Not Parklets” circulated a petition to present to the council Tuesday night to show the support to remove all the temporary parklets and banning new permanent ones from being approved.
Cotton said there’s a historical precedent to block them, pointing to a 2012 decision to block George’s Greek Cafe from building a parklet in front of its Second Street location
While upward of 17 businesses in Belmont Shore could ultimately apply for a permanent parklet, Cotton said the group has a number it would like to see.
“Zero, for the shore,” Cotton said. “But we’re not trying to tell other parts of the city what to do.”