Council OKs parklets for Main Street restaurants

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The Seal Beach City Council voted unanimously Thursday, July 16, to allow restaurants to use outdoor areas—including street parking spaces—for dining areas called “parklets” in the Main Street area. (For why they cast their votes in favor of the proposal, see page 8.)

The director of Community Development said staff’s goal is to be ready to start by Friday, July 24.

Staff recommended that the temporary use of outdoor dining be allowed for at least six months.

Closing Main Street to traffic won’t be part of the outdoor dining program.

The proposal was to allow Main Street restaurants to convert two parking spaces in front of their businesses into “parklets” for dining. (Ocean Avenue restaurants would be allowed to convert one parking space into a parklet.) The restaurants would have the option of either building platforms for the tables or just putting out tables, provided they also provided ADA access to the tables.

As an alternative, restaurants would be allowed to designate a sidewalk table for ADA use.

Number of spaces discussed

District Two Councilman Tom Moore proposed expanding the Main Street parklets to three parking spaces, rather than the proposed two.

Moore said some restaurant operators don’t believe two spaces would be that helpful.

According to Johnson, city staff would have to revisit the issue with the California Coastal Commission if the city wanted to make it three parking spaces instead of two.

District One Councilman Joe Kalmick said that if Seal Beach loses more restaurants, that will affect businesses that are not restaurants.

Kalmick also said he would support the use of city property by fitness centers.

District Five Councilwoman Sandra Massa-Lavitt said she would like to go with two parking spaces and approach the Coastal Commission about the three-space concept in a few weeks.

She said she would like to try two parking spaces first.

Kalmick said he’s talked to restaurants that were adamant about having three or even four spaces. However, he expressed concern that increasing the number of parking spaces might raise the ire of the CCC. He said it was dangerous to talk to the Coastal Commission. “You can always add if it works out,” he said.

District Three Councilman Michael Varipapa said he would concur with Kalmick. He said he wanted to move forward.

“Just to get things moving along, I’d to with two,” said Mayor/District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic.

Hours prior to the special session meeting, District One Councilman Joe Kalmcik adamantly said there would be no fees for outdoor tables. He repeated that statement during a Saturday, July 18, phone interview.

Seal Beach city staff recommended against charging a fee, according to the Community Development Department director’s report to the council.

The council also approved a budget amendment $35,000 from General Fund reserves “to implement and execute the temporary use of specified public street areas for outdoor business use,” according to the staff report by Community Development Director Les Johnson.

Director Johnson’s staff report included a brief discussion of allowing other businesses to operate outdoors, including retailers, gyms, hair salons and nail salons.

“The opportunity to allow various activities to temporarily locate outdoors will vary and may also require the approval of another agency,” Johnson wrote. His report did not specify the agency.

“However, staff believes that consideration should be given for such and is recommending City Council approval to allow for an administrative review process to consider the temporary placement or location of merchandise or services outdoors for established Seal Beach businesses,” Johnson wrote.

Planning to start this week

Johnson elaborated on the planned start for the project in a July 20 email to the Sun. “Since Thursday evening, staff has been working on taking the steps necessary to implement the temporary outdoor parklet dining program as soon as possible,” Johnson wrote. 

“The barricades have been ordered and the barricade covers are being built.  An application will be available tomorrow (7/21) for this program.  Our goal is to be able to have at least a few of the parklets available for occupancy by Friday (7/24),” Johnson wrote.

About closing Main Street

According to the Community Development Director, traffic circulation is the biggest challenge.

“Unlike Fullerton, Orange, Laguna Beach and Huntington Beach, Main Street in Seal Beach is the only commercial street while the other identified cities have multiple commercial streets within their downtown area,” Johnson wrote.

“In addition, visitors to Seal Beach typically access the beach and pier via Main Street. Closure of any segment of Main Street would potentially create a significant traffic circulation challenge, especially on the weekends when visitor activity is at its highest,” Johnson wrote.

“This would not only impact Main Street but also adjacent streets, especially 8th and 10th, with a large increase in traffic and parking demand expected,” Johnson wrote.

However, Johnson also wrote that the city should consider allowing using on-street parking spaces in the Main Street corridor.

Potential retail impact

“Though the decision rendered by the City Council during the special meeting last Thursday afternoon primarily focused upon providing an opportunity for temporary parklets for outdoor dining to be established within the Main Street business corridor, the approval  also included the opportunity for other temporary outdoor activities and uses to also be considered throughout the community,” Johnson wrote in a July 20 email. 

“Specific to retailers, a store would have the opportunity to temporarily place merchandize outside their store once a permit has been obtained for such.  In addition to retailers, certain services could also be considered to temporarily operate outdoors, such as one of our local fitness centers conducting a fitness class near their center or possibly in a park or the beach,” Johnson wrote.

“The primary objective is to provide businesses with the opportunity to conduct business operations outside of their standard indoor space where it is reasonable, feasible and safe to do so.  We will have an application available for this opportunity in the next few days,” Johnson wrote.

Parklets

“The cities of Fullerton, Orange, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach have closed portions of streets in their downtown areas while Long Beach and a number of others have established criteria to allow for the use of street parking for outdoor dining,” Johnson wrote.

The city of Paramount has also allowed al fresco dining. The city of Avalon on Catalina Island has set aside beach space for outdoor dining.

According to Johnson, there are 170 parking spaces on Main Street.

“There are more than 120 businesses in the Main Street corridor, with 32 being restaurants. Thus, 28% of the Main Street corridor businesses are restaurants,” Johnson wrote.

“In speaking with a number of the restaurant owners and managers, the interest is to have the temporary outdoor dining in close proximity to the restaurant,” Johnson wrote.

“This is beneficial for wait staff, which most Main Street restaurants have, and also for serving alcohol under the temporary allowances provided by ABC,” Johnson wrote.

“If each restaurant fronting on Main Street who doesn’t have private parking available were allowed two on-street parking spaces for outdoor dining, a total of 44 spaces would be used. This represents approximately 26% of the Main Street on-street parking,” Johnson wrote.

For safety, staff proposed placing traffic barriers to keep moving cars and restaurant patrons apart.

“The cost for renting barricades and the sleeves is estimated to be approximately $75,000,” Johnson wrote.

“Each restaurant will need to decide if they wish to build a platform (similar to the parklets on 2nd Street in Long Beach) or simply utilize the parking lot surface,” Johnson wrote.

“Cost to construct a platform covering two parking spaces is estimated to run around $11,000 to $13,000. If a platform is not built, the restaurant will need to provide ADA access to at least one table outside the parking spaces or provide an ADA compliant ramp,” Johnson wrote.

Public comment

The council received five email comments on the proposal—all in favor. The emails were not read into the record during the live webcast/broadcast of the council meeting. The text of those comments were available online at the city website.

David Copley, managing partner of O’Malley’s on Main, wrote that “given the current mandate from the state, it is not possible to operate without massive losses utilizing existing outdoor dining seating only.”  He said their goal was to break even while keeping staff employed. “The addition of seating in front would prove vital in this effort,” Copley wrote. He argued that Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Laguna Beach have outdoor parking and are seeing massive demand.

Resident Sharyn Harvey wrote, “Save our restaurants on Main St(reet) and do the right thing, as other cities have done.”

Carrie Logue, writing as an individual, said, “It is so important that we support business right now, before more Main Street and other SB businesses are shuttered.”

Enea Ostrich, of College Park East, wrote, “The car show has proved that closing down works so why not for COVID19 … an essential time? I also suggest that there should be ample parking at the beach as well as overflow at the Navy Base on an as needed basis. This has been done for the car show so it’s what will be needed for COVID19 too.” Ostrich also suggested using red buses for transportation.

Neighboring cities seeing bonus of outdoor dining

Other cities have already created outdoor dining by blocking off parking spaces for specific restaurants, including neighboring Belmont Shores. Restaurants along second street have created outdoor dining on the street by blocking off parking spaces in front of their eateries.

The plan was approved by the City of Long Beach under a program called the Open Streets Initiative. The city provided barricades to close off the space and restaurants paid for their own set up and construction of the space.

“I’m very impressed with how well the city has done with it,” Aaron Tofani, the owner of Rance’s Chicago Pizza said.

Tofani also sits on the city’s Parking Commission and admits to being a little hesitant of the idea at first. However, he said he understood the need to try something to help local restaurants. He also noted that the Alcoholic Beverage Control office has been quick to approve temporary permits for serving alcohol in the outdoor dining areas.

While Tofani’s restaurant was doing a lot of take-out business, he said the added dining has brought them back up to nearly 100 percent of what would be normal business during this time of year. And, now he added that people seem to love it.

Dede Rossi, Executive Director of the Belmont Shore Business Association said that the merchants she has spoken with have been pleased with the way the plan has brought shoppers and diners back to the area. She said that 2nd Street is vibrant with the parklets and that it has helped other businesses.

“I’m not sure of the long term with less parking spots, but summer is here, and people want to get out so they will find a way to get here,” Rossi said.

Sun Editor Ted Apodaca contributed to this story.