Outdoor Dining Program? Survey Seeks Response From Restaurants

By Haley Sawyer
Special to The Review

South Pasadena officials continue to explore expanding al fresco, or outdoor, dining options for local restaurants as eateries begin to apply for the first phase of the city’s plans.
Dining establishments may apply to the city to set up outdoor dining in private off-site parking areas and to use certain curbs as loading zones for pickup service. Meanwhile, proprietors of local eateries are encouraged to take the city’s survey asking how the municipality can best assist them as South Pasadena considers a second phase of al fresco, which may permit dining in public rights of way or street parking zones.
Since March, restaurants have mostly been limited to takeout or delivery. Officials hope al fresco dining will particularly help the local mom-and-pop restaurateurs whose businesses have been ravaged by the pandemic.
“Other cities are moving forward and making allocations and particularly now that our businesses are opening up and especially our restaurants, who are going to incur costs,” the idea is timely, said Mayor Pro Tem Diana Mahmud last week.
Some council members last week discussed the idea of creating a dining plaza by blocking off an area between Mission and El Centro streets. The plaza, which would be in effect nine to 12 months, would be a central area where diners could enjoy food from surrounding restaurants. However, county public health regulations state that a dining area has to remain within a certain distance from a restaurant’s kitchen. The plaza, as discussed by the council, might be too far outside such a radius.
The city’s Department of Economic Development had presented possibilities for al fresco dining at the June 10 council meeting. Those ideas included curbside pickup, use of existing spaces such as parking lots, parking lane closures and street closures.
The possible use of sidewalks was ruled out as they do not allow for the recommended six feet of social distancing that health officials say helps prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Economic development staff members will work with restaurants on a case-by-case basis to decide which option is best for that restaurant. They hope to identify clusters of businesses with similar needs so that street or parking lane closures can be done most efficiently.
Curbside pickup is the least costly item and businesses would be required to provide their own signage to indicate the designated pickup area.
If a restaurant chooses to designate off-street parking, a parking lane or a side street as a dining area, it could be required to provide barriers to create the dining area.
The cost of renting barricades to close off one block for one month is $10,000. Council members discussed other options of barricading, such as the use of large trees, as well as means to alleviate costs for restaurants. Municipal grants could be one way to manage such costs.
Businesses will likely go through a no-cost application process and will need a permit in order to use spaces for dining. Permit applications will be expedited and be processed in less than one week.
The al fresco dining program presented by the staff will expire 90 days after the local emergency declaration is lifted.
Restaurants interested in al fresco dining are encouraged to visit the city’s economic development website — southpasadenaca.gov/government/departments/management-services/economic-development — and share thoughts in a brief online survey.