Parklet program to be extended through September; some could become permanent

Long Beach’s parklet program, which gave restaurants and other businesses a lifeline to expand service outside during the pandemic, will be extended through the end of September.

The extension approved by the City Council Tuesday night will also allow many of the businesses that opened parklets to apply to make them permanent, including those along a section of Pine Avenue in Downtown that was closed to traffic completely.

The parklet program was set to expire June 30.

As part of Tuesday’s decision, the businesses that apply for permanent parklets will have to go through a permitting process and adhere to guidelines established by the city.

City Manager Tom Modica said that about 70% of Long Beach parklets could be eligible to become permanent while some will have to be removed due to safety concerns. The extension would only apply to existing parklets.

Modica said the parklets that would have to be removed exist in areas of the city that have traffic safety concerns or are blocking important infrastructure like storm drains. Some of the parklets that could be eligible to stay have aesthetic issues, accessibility and insurance issues, he said.

“They were done on an emergency basis,” Modica said. “They don’t have the final materials.”

Modica added that this extension would apply to other businesses that have expanded operations into their parking lots, but those types of outdoor extensions would have to end in September because they’re currently against zoning codes, he added.

The application process could include review of safety concerns due to traffic conditions on the streets they’re located, effects on parking in the area and feedback from residents who live around them.

The city has over 100 temporary parklets throughout the city but some have already begun to come down. The extension of the program would apply to parklets and to the complete street shutdown of Pine Avenue, something that members of the council have expressed interest in making permanent.

But the city already announced that it would be reopening lanes on Atlantic Avenue in Bixby Knolls that had been temporarily closed to allow area restaurants to expand out into the street. Those lanes are expected to reopen next week.

Another parklet that was granted to a real estate office will not be covered by the extension.

There have been concerns over the safety of parklets as lanes of traffic and parking have been removed. In some cases this has put diners in close proximity to traffic and there have been a number of accidents involving vehicles crashing into parklets.

Councilwoman Suzie Price asked that the traffic engineer consult on parklet locations. Price, who represents a district that includes Belmont Shore and Naples, said that there have been five accidents in parklets in her area of the city.

“Thankfully nobody got hurt but those accidents did take out two parklets completely,” Price said.

Mayor Robert Garcia asked for the plan to be developed after a big push from local restaurateurs, who said the outdoor areas could allow them to continue to recover from the pandemic-closures.

Garcia said that customers have also expressed a hesitance to head back to indoor dining despite the city’s “yellow” tier status in the state’s reopening plan that allows for 50% indoor capacity for restaurants. Restaurants and other retailers could seat more people inside if they require proof of negative tests or vaccination.

“I know folks who will not eat inside right now, they still want to eat outdoors and I know that for a lot of folks, that for them, that’s what works,” Garcia said.

Garcia added that he hoped that the parklets that are eligible to stay could become permanent.

“We understand that there has to be process in place, but my personal opinion is that as many parklets that want to stay permanent should be allowed to stay in place,” Garcia said.

The state is expected to lift most of its remaining COVID-19 guidelines on June 15.

June 15 is also the day that California will loosen mandates on wearing masks in public settings for those who are vaccinated.

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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.