What city officials are doing about the future of local restaurants

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Some city officials are looking at converting parking spaces in front of restaurants into “parklet” dining areas. However, that will require both City Council and California Coastal Commission approval. The city manager provided the Sun with a list of several business programs the city has recently implemented.

Two questions

On July 8, the Sun Newspapers sent the following questions to each of the five Seal Beach City Council members, the city  manager and the assistant city manager. The same message was sent in an email to all seven officials.

“What are you doing today to ensure restaurants and other businesses remain in business?”

“Is the city considering allowing dining on Main Street?”

Councilman Joe Kalmick responded by phone that day and said he was speaking on behalf of both District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa and himself.

On the chance that not all emails were received, the Sun resent the same questions on July 9, accompanied by a note: “Please be advised, per my publisher, that your answers will be published in next week’s Sun Newspapers.”

The second message was sent separately to each individual council member and each city official. City Manager Jill Ingram responded the next day by email.

Council members Schelly Sustarsic and Thomas Moore replied to follow up phone messages.

District One Councilman Joe Kalmick, speaking on behalf of himself and District Three Councilman Mike Varipapa:

The city was already planning to put auxiliary tables on Main Street, said Councilman Joe Kalmick during a July 8 phone interview, now that the state has shut down indoor restaurant dining.

Kalmick said that city staff will be there to see that tables are sanitized so that people can enjoy meals outside and to make sure people are maintaining social distancing.

In the meantime, Kalmick said, the city is wrestling with other issues now that restaurants are closed (for three weeks as of July 1.)

Kalmick said it was too problematic for Seal Beach to shut down Main Street to traffic. He said a lot of businesses don’t have enough parking access. The Post Office, for example.

He said any retail business that did not sell food would not have parking if the street were closed.

Also, he said, Seal Beach has a history of people not parking in beach lots.

Kalmick said it would be financially prohibitive for the city to widen the sidewalk.

He said some restaurants have parking areas available. “Many of the other restaurants do not,” Kalmick said.

He cited O’Malley’s on Main as one example.

He said Seal Beach would observe what other cities have been doing.

He said the city was aware of the short window of time.

“The summer is going to be over before we can imagine it,” Kalmick said.

He said he and Councilman Varipapa, Community Development Director Les Johnson, and City Manager Jill Ingram met to look at what Kalmick calls “parklets,” which would be platforms built to convert parking spaces in front of restaurants into dining areas.

He said maybe the city could appropriate  at least some of the parking spaces on Main Street for parklets.

He pointed out that platforms would have to be built, pointing out there were trip and fall issues as well as ADA issues. He said the only practical way to do it would be to build platforms.

According to Kalmick, other states are also allowing outdoor dining.

Kalmick said restaurants would have to fund “parklets” on their own “hook,” apparently meaning the restaurants would have to pay for the platform construction themselves.

Kalmick said the city would streamline the process.

He said to do this would require City Council approval or an executive order that would be approved by the council.

So far, Kalmick said he has only spoken with Councilman Varipapa.

In response to social media posts, Kalmick said it is not true that the city isn’t downing anything.

“We can’t afford to lose any business,” Kalmick said.

Kalmick said this was a small city with a small budget and a small street. He said city can’t turn around immediately.

He said as a councilperson, he has had nothing but full cooperation from city staff, from the city manager on down.

According to Kalmick, the city has actually been slowed down by the fact that staff are not at City Hall.

Kalmick also opposes the idea of closing one side of the street to traffic. (That option was discussed on Catalina Island, but the Avalon Fire Department and Avalon Sheriff’s Station opposed the idea due to concerns about emergency vehicle access.) Kalmick said traffic would be diverted if one side of Main Street would be closed. Kalmick said if one side of the street is closed, you can’t put tables on that side. Servers and patrons would be dodging traffic.

“Which business do you sacrifice?” Kalmick asked.

Kalmick said if parklets are successful, people may say “keep the tables.”

Kalmick said no matter what you do, somebody will be unhappy.

District Two Councilman Thomas Moore

“I guess we’re going to meet next week to talk about parklets,” said District Two Councilman Thomas Moore in a July 13 phone interview.

Moore said the California Coastal Commission would have to approve parklets—the term city officials are now using to describe converting parking spaces in front of restaurants into dining areas.

Moore said the city would have to look at the potential liability and would need to consult with the Joint Powers Insurance Authority.

He said there were more aspects to the parklet idea than people realize.

“I think we’ll have a meeting next week and discuss it as a council,” Moore said.

Mayor/District Four Councilwoman Schelly Sustarsic

Mayor Schelly Sustarsic said she had been concentrating on the small business grants that have been going through the county.

She said the applications for the grants are due this week.

(The deadline for submitting a grant application window is July 17. For more information, see City Manager Jill Ingram’s answer below.)

Sustarsic said she hoped the grant program will help of lot of businesses that have been suffering.

Sustarsic said the Orange County Small Business Development Center is processing the applications for free.

“I hope we can help a lot of businesses that way,” she said.

Sustarsic said she was happy that the city set up communal outdoor dining.

She said cities in general are having a hard time. She said everybody is hurting.

City Manager Jill Ingram:

“Charles, in response to your email below on behalf of the City and the City Council, and as you know from your several discussions and communications with Les Johnson, there has been a significant number of business advocacy actions and efforts that the City has taken over the past several weeks to support the reopening of Seal Beach businesses,” wrote Assistant City Manager Jill Ingram in a July 10 email.

“SEAL BEACH SMALL BUSINESS SUPPORT EFFORTS

“Small Business Relief Grant Program:

“• On June 22nd, the City Council approved the Small Business Relief Grant Program providing the opportunity to deliver one-time grants of up to $10,000 to Seal Beach businesses with 30 or fewer employees to provide immediate relief to qualified local businesses that have experienced hardship due to COVID-19.

“• City is in the process of receiving applications to distribute over $562,000 in CARES Act funding to qualified Seal Beach small businesses.

“• Established grant guidelines in order to provide for a fair and equitable distribution of the grant funds in accordance with the CARES Act.

“• Utilizing assistance from the Orange County Small Business Development Center who will be administering the application process.

“• Hosting Small Business Relief Grant Program webinar series on Wednesday, July 8th and Tuesday, July 14th to ensure small business owners better understand the grant program and the application process.

“• City staff participated in Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce virtual breakfast on Thursday, July 9th to discuss the Small Business Relief Grant Program.

“• Grant application window is from July 9-17, 2020.

“• Awarding of grant funds scheduled to occur at the end of July or early August.

“• All grant program information has been posted on the City’s website, which can be viewed at https://www.sealbeachca.gov/Local-Government-Emergency-COVID-19-Update/Business-and-Employee-Resources/Small-Business-Relief-Grant-Program.

“Temporary Outdoor Dining Permits:

“• On June 8th, the City Council approved temporary business reopening support measures to allow a temporary outdoor dining administrative review process for COVID-19 related temporary outdoor dining on public sidewalk areas within the Main Street business corridor as well as on private property in proximity to restaurants throughout the community and waived all application fees.

“• On June 8th, the City Council approved the establishment of a marketing and promotional campaign of $30,000 to be used to support reopening of Seal Beach businesses.

“• City staff selected a local small Seal Beach marketing business, Deb Machen with MarketSnag, to partner with the City to initiate a marketing campaign to promote Seal Beach businesses.

“• City staff initiated criteria and an application process in order to allow temporary outdoor dining.

“• Allowance for public sidewalk use within the Main Street corridor when ADA compliance can be met.

“• Application process is straightforward, no fee is charged, and issuance is happening within 2-3 days of submittal.

“• Allowance for extending or creating new temporary outdoor dining on private property.

“• Tremendous interest from businesses in this opportunity.

“• As of July 8, 2020, over 20 applications received.

“Temporary Communal Dining Areas:

“• Two communal dining areas have been established within the Main Street corridor.

“• First location is within a portion of Eisenhower Park – south of the pier, across from The Hangout, Bogart’s, Pierside Press, and El Burrito Jr.

“• Second location is within a portion of the public parking lot at Main Street & Electric Avenue – adjacent to Bistro St. Germain.

“• Each dining area will have a minimum of 8 tables and 48 chairs with ability to increase, if necessary.

“• Established from 4:00 p.m. to sunset, Wednesday-Sunday.  May increase hours and/or to 7 days/week if demand increases.

“• Staff present at each area to ensure a clean and sanitary dining environment.

“• Dining areas are for Main St. restaurant customers.

“• Consumption of alcohol is not allowed.

“• Will continue to provide for up to next 8 weeks.  Will extend or conclude depending upon demand.

“Concept of Downtown Outdoor Dining Parklets

“• At the June 8th City Council meeting, City staff provided the City Council with an update on the concept of temporarily utilizing on-street parking for dining in downtown commercial areas.

“• City staff is currently working with Mayor Pro Tem Kalmick and Council Member Varipapa, both who currently serve on the Main Street Streetscape Enhancement Committee, to evaluate potential options for temporarily utilizing on-street parking for dining on Main Street as a result of Governor Newsom’s recent three-week closure of indoor dining for restaurants.

“• City staff anticipates bringing forward a recommendation for temporarily utilizing on-street parking for dining on Main Street to the entire City Council within the next week.

“COVID-19 Business Information:

“• City has provided and is maintaining a comprehensive list of pertinent and relevant information on its website.

“• City created a Business Resource and Resiliency Guide to assist Seal Beach businesses.

“• Community Development Department staff is available via email or phone during regular business hours to be of resource and assistance to Seal Beach businesses.

“• City staff continues working closely with the Seal Beach Chamber of Commerce.

Assistant City Manager Patrick Gallegos:

During a July 10 telephone interview, Assistant City Manager Patrick Gallegos told the Sun that Jill has sent the city’s response. “Our response will be what Jill sent you,” Gallegos said. Asked if he was going to respond separately, he said he would essentially be telling the Sun the same thing that Ms. Ingram said in her email, which the Sun received on Friday, July 10.