Speakers tell subcommittee: no parklets

Majority of citizens at meeting oppose keeping the parklets

By Charles M. Kelly

The City Council Parklet Subcommittee heard from approximately 17 members of the public at the Thursday, Oct. 20, meeting of the two-member subcommittee. Some spoke more than once.

Most of the speakers opposed keeping the parklets (outdoor dining areas) that presently dot Main Street.

The committee didn’t make any decisions at the Oct. 20 meeting that was called on short notice on Tuesday, Oct. 18. Anything city staff does requires the approval of the full City Council.

The subcommittee was made up of District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa and District One Councilman/Mayor Joe Kalmick.

City Manager Jill Ingram was present, but did not speak. Approximately 24 people sat in the council chambers before Community Development Director Alexa Smittle called the meeting to order.

The public spoke before Smittle gave her presentation outlining estimated construction costs and possible designs for parking.

We’ll start with some of the public comments.

Public comments

The public comment segment of the meeting began with a man whose name sounded like Randy Barnaby said that his family recently bought, renovated, and live in a house on a street bordering the street parking lot here. He was concerned about parking. “The discussion of them [parklets] being permanent confuses me because not only does that take away parking, worsening the huge parking problem, but by default, the reason is to increase capacity in the restaurants, which would mean that you also need more parking,” he said.

The next speaker was Diana Newton, who said she a past Seal Beach Chamber president, a fact she mentioned only because parking was an issue when she held that position.  (She became Chamber president in 2013, according to Sun archives.)

“I attended countless meetings with the city to try to resolve that issue and nothing has ever really happened,” she said.

“In 2020, while we were all working together to get through the pandemic, everyone on Main Street rallied to support the restaurants and the parklets were implemented,” Newton said.

“And we are so thankful that those restaurants continue to survive and thrive on Main Street,” she  said.

However, she said it was understood that the parklets would come to an end on Sept. 30. (The state legislature has extended the deadline for outdoor dining.)

“This proposal will permanently change the way of life in Seal Beach,” she said.

She said that many businesses on Main Street pay a premium to be on Main Street and the proposed  square footage rates are low.

She said most of the non-restaurant businesses are open far longer than the minimum  proposed hours for parklets.

“Why not allow other retail or services to pay the same fees to install their own parklet to offer their services outdoor,” Newton said.

She also said the 48 hour notice for the parklet meeting was ridiculous. She said she emailed a letter to the council and had not received a response from any of the council members.

Woody Woodruff was another parklet opponent. “I was on the last  parking commission we ever had,” he said.

Woodruff argued there was plenty of time to make decisions about the parklets. “It’s going to change Main Street forever,” Woodruff said.

He argued that giving a two day notice for the meeting might be legal but it wasn’t ethical. “It doesn’t give people time to respond,” he said.

Woodruff argued that street sweepers can’t get in to clean the street’s gutters and that might expose Seal Beach to fines under the Clean Water Act.

“But with new parklets at least the rats won’t have to live at Eisenhower Park anymore. They’ll have nice condos on the street,” Woodruff said.

“The people that already have al fresco dining, do they get a parklet?”

A woman who identified herself as Renee from Even More Hair Salon said she had worked on Main Street for 10 years. “There’s always been an issue with the parking. It’s been a little tricky, especially for my clients that are coming from another town,” she said.

As for the parklets, which she said were supposed to be temporary, her whole storefront is covered. “I have no signage whatsoever. So I’ve lost a lot of business,” she said.She said that when the government said hair salons could open outside, she had no place to open outside because the area was taken over by a restaurant.

Brita Lemmon, owner of Brita’s Old Town Garden, asked why any restaurant should get parking beyond their footprint. “There is no excuse for her salon to be covered,” Lemmon said. “There is no excuse for you coming in and saying take your sandwich boards off,” Lemmon said.

“We don’t feel like we’re going to win or even be considered,” Lemmon said.

Joyce Ross Parque, a frequent council critic, said the parklets are dirty. “We get just as much money from people paying to park because they have to pay the ticket if they stay more than one hour, two hours,” Parque said.

“We need it back the way it was before,” Parque said.

A man whose name sounded like Matthew Terry was one of the few who spoke in favor of parklets.

He talked about the lights and life inside the restaurants and said that life could bring vibrancy out to the parklets.

“I’ve been a fan of parklets for some time,” he said.

He urged people to hold judgement until they see what a real parklet looks like on Main Street.

He argued that the Main Street Specific Plan 30 years ago outlined a need for remote parking with shuttle transportation.

He said Main Street was a great place to stroll, but lacked a place to just stop and take in the street and relax. He suggested some parklets be used just as public spaces so people can just sit down and be part of the Main Street experience.

Juni Bianco, current president of the Seal Beach Chamber, read a letter that the Chamber sent to the council in July supporting parklets.

He then told the subcommittee about a trip he took to Frankfurt, Germany, a few years ago.

Staff proposal

After the Community Development Director Alexa Smittle  then gave her presentation to the subcommittee and the audience. According to Smittle, provisions in Assembly Bill 61 lifted parking requirements for parking for outdoor dining purposes.

“However, this provision of the law does expire January 1 of 2024,” she said. Smittle said that any action for a future parklet program still had a shelf life.

She said staff proposed that businesses with parklets have two meal services a day, six days a week.

She said the city wants the parklets to be in consistent use.

“People do often feel safer dining outside still, given the presence of COVID as it continues,” Smittle said.

However, some businesses would be precluded from having parklets such as coffee shops and dessert restaurants that didn’t serve some sort of meal.

Smittle said if a store front is smaller, the parklet would be smaller. “So I think it  would be a matter of reviewing the application and making a determination that the existing store front has two spaces in front of it and therefore it has a two space parklet or if it’s a little larger then that we could look at a three space parklet,” Smittle said.

Staff doesn’t have a one-space parklet proposal right now.

Smittle said the city would have design standards requiring setbacks or buffers. The design would include planted landscaping for the parklets. Buffer space would allow the doors of parked cars to swing out or for people to walk by.

Smittle said this would reduce the space inside the parklets.

Staff is calling for unbranded umbrellas and furnishings that complement Main Street.

“We have done little bit of an internal look here within our staff and expect the construction of a parklet would cost at least $15,000,” Smittle said.

“At the September council meeting, council gave direction to explore fees for the use of parking spaces,” Smittle said.

Staff proposes putting a mitigation fee into a special fund for Main Street improvements. Smittle said coming up with a fee for restaurant square footage was challenging.

“We should in addition have a permit fee to offset administrative costs,” Smittle said.

In response to a comment from a member of the public, Smittle conceded that under current circumstances the law allowing the parklets would expire in a year. However, she said the state could change the law or the city could go forward with an application for a local coastal development permit through the California Coastal Commission.

Later, Smittle said the parklets would be Americans with Disabilities Act compliant.

After the presentation and more comments from the public the two council representatives spoke. District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa, who has termed out, said the majority of the current parklets don’t look great.

However, Varipapa said he thought some of the restaurants were benefiting from the parklets. He argued that the square footage calculation for parklets should be similar to that of restaurants.

Councilman Kalmick, the only incumbent in this year’s election, said he agreed with Varipapa. “We’ve arrived at a place where people enjoy outdoor dining,” he said.

Kalmick said he believed that restaurants would decide if the cost of building the parklets would be worth it and that would offset parking impacts.

Kalmick also said people need to be open to change. “I still need to see a lot more information,” he said.

In response to comments from the public, Smittle said the parklets do need to go before the full council.