Outdoor Dining Moves Into the Street

Al fresco food service will see an expansion in South Pasadena after the City Council approved using concrete barriers to cordon off street parking in select areas to allow restaurants to use outdoor dining spaces.
The city will make use of $50,000 in Proposition C funding to rent K-rail concrete barriers for the program, touted as one of the most viable ways to help eateries during the COVID-19 pandemic. Indoor dining continues to be barred in a plethora of counties, including Los Angeles County. The new phase of the al fresco program will utilize street parking locations while the city conducts traffic studies to ascertain whether it’s necessary or viable to expand restaurants’ seating farther into streets.

Restaurants in South Pasadena thus far have been able to use private parking lots and, in more limited situations, sidewalk space to set up tables outside. Aside from delivery or takeout, these setups can represent the only way for restaurants to serve guests if they lack their own patio seating.
“There’s no other way for them to expand their businesses without being able to do so,” said Margaret Lin, the city’s manager of long-range planning and economic development, during a presentation last week. “Allowing them to do sidewalk dining or sidewalk retail is fairly limited, especially in terms of maintaining that 6-foot social distancing. So, yes, they are waiting for us to be able to do this.”
Sectioned-off areas will include the north and south sides of Mission Street between Meridian Avenue and Diamond Avenue; the north side of Mission from Diamond to Fairview Avenue; the east and west sides of Diamond from Mission to Pico Alley; the north and south sides of Mission from Mound Avenue to Edison Lane; and the north side of El Centro Street from the train tracks to Meridian.
“In terms of business outreach, we’ve had a lot of support from the Chamber of Commerce,” Lin explained. “As of right now, we have 12 applications that have been submitted from local businesses. There are an additional 18 businesses that are interested in the program but haven’t necessarily identified how they would use the program.
“Even if you don’t know exactly what you would like to do, staff is standing by to work with you on your specific needs,” she added.
The city is contracting with Right of Way, a San Dimas provider of traffic control services, to acquire the K-rail barriers, which though unsightly are required for the protection they afford pedestrians from vehicles. (The “K” indicates the safety rating for the barriers.)
“I’m very concerned that these concrete barricades are going to be ugly,” Councilman Richard Schneider said, suggesting that the city’s Public Art Commission work on a way to beautify them. “I really don’t want to see the city looking like a Caltrans construction zone with these K-rails up and down Mission Street.”
City officials pointed out that other cities have found ways of sprucing up their al fresco areas so that they aren’t simply blocked off parking spaces.
“If you go to Glendale, they have painted all of their barriers white, and they have put some planters around them,” Public Works Director Shahid Abbas said. “They honestly don’t look that bad. They look nice.”
Joanna Hankamer, director of planning and community development, said that though there are different designs of K-rails, they are all, for the most part, “clunky concrete rail systems.” She added that she would work with Right of Way to see whether the firm would be amenable to the city painting the rails while using them, while also considering other beautification measures.
“There is an opportunity to add umbrellas and trees within that space to really make it feel like it’s become a pedestrian space rather than a car space,” Hankamer said. “We’ve seen that in examples all over the region. There is a way to make the space look lively and to show that pedestrians are welcome there.”
Schneider, along with Mayor Bob Joe, remained skeptical about the optics of K-rails but seemed to accept their usefulness; approving this next phase of al fresco was a 4-0 vote.
“I can’t envision having 40 K-rails along Mission,” Schneider still added. “It’ll just look awful.”
“But if it means providing more revenue for our businesses and helping them to survive,” Mayor Pro Tem Diana Mahmud replied, “isn’t it worth accepting an ugly duckling?”