Many restaurants, explained South Pasadena City Councilmember Dr. Marina Khubesrian, will likely not be able to survive with 50 percent indoor seating requirement when indoor dining is permitted again after months of revenue losses due to the coronavirus pandemic.
As a result, explained Khubesrian during Wednesday’s City Council meeting, held Zoom-style with most participants checking in from their homes, cities across the world are looking to permit temporary use of parking lots, street parking, plazas, and even entire streets to provide safer, outdoor space for what’s been called “Dining-at-a-Distance.”
Khubesrian said expanded pedestrian access to outdoor space could “help our retail customers avoid sidewalk pileups and provide the safer alternative of shopping outdoor storefront popup displays. In order to increase business and sales tax revenues, we need to make it safer for people to want to come out to shop and dine.”
She brought up the concept during the City Council comments portion of the meeting, in which the 5-member panel is given an opportunity to address topics of particular concern while tossing out ideas for future agenda items. Khubesrian made a motion, seconded by Councilmember Dr. Richard Schneider, to direct city staff to place for discussion on the next council meeting an initiative to expand outdoor dining spaces for the benefit of public health and to address the economic urgency facing local businesses. The council met her request with unanimous support.
Recent studies, according to Khubesrian, have shown that the risk of spreading virus by respiratory droplets is significantly lower outdoors. “Allowing more temporary outdoor options for people to dine and shop will reduce the risk of exposure to coronavirus during this public health crisis while addressing the economic urgency our businesses face,” she said. “I’d like our preliminary discussion of feasibility of an Al Fresco South Pasadena initiative to consider safety, liability, cost and staff time implications.”
The councilmember has spoken with Laurie Wheeler, saying the president of the South Pasadena Chamber of Commerce “has already begun exploring this initiative with chamber members and will provide comments at the next council meeting,” she said.
Khubesrian has also been in contact with ActiveSGV to explore grant options. The organization is known for making transit improvements, successful open streets cycling events, green infrastructure efforts, and advocacy for a more sustainable, equitable and livable lifestyle in the San Gabriel Valley.
Her motion directs city staff to explore models from other cities, including:
• An expedited administrative application process for a no-cost permit for use of restaurant parking lots for outdoor dining.
• Use of barricades to provide safety to diners.
• Present information on the recently implemented ability of restaurants by ABC (the Alcoholic Beverage Control agency) to get an expedited expansion of their liquor license area to adjacent parking lots, sidewalks and streets in an effort to facilitate city plans to open more outdoor spaces for restaurants.
It’s all intended for economic growth and recovery, and to distance patrons from each other out of concern for safety from the spread of COVID-19, emphasized Khubesrian.
“It’s a good idea to try to figure this out in advance and plan administratively for how the city would accommodate this initiative, once the county or state allows it, which is likely around the corner,” she said.