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Echo Park in Los Angeles (Photo: Evan Symon for California Globe)

Los Angeles Restaurants Prepare To Fight Planned Outdoor Dining Limitations

‘Do restaurants pay thousands we don’t have, or remove all the outdoor seating, which means we lose profits and need to cut back on people?’

By Evan Symon, February 8, 2023 7:05 am

A proposed new ordinance in Los Angeles that would severely restrict outside dining and could cost around $20,000  to get a new permit for al fresco dining  has cause an uproar in Los the city, with many restaurant owners and operators prepared to fight against the heavy new limitations.

While outdoor dining wasn’t unusual before 2020, indoor dining bans during the COVID-19 pandemic led to an explosion of restaurants with outdoor dining options in California and across the United States. In Los Angeles, free al fresco dining permits that allowed restaurants to expand into parking lots, sidewalks, parking areas, and other adjacent outdoor properties belonging to the restaurant were praised for saving many dining establishments during the pandemic. They proved to be so important that outdoor dining bans that attempted to shut down restaurants again during spikes in COVID-19 were turned down quickly by the courts.

While many colder-weather cities eventually dissolved outdoor dining laws when COVID restrictions were lifted, Los Angeles kept the al fresco program in place. As a result, many restaurants came to rely on the greater outdoor capacity. The greater capacity also allowed many restaurants to recover more quickly from the down years of the pandemic.

However, the new Al Fresco Program proposal introduced earlier this year has threatened to undue all of that. New permits costing $20,000 and above will be needed not just to keep outdoor dining in place, but to also allow for restaurants to continue on on sidewalks and in parking lots. Also worrisome is another permit needed if outdoor capacity is 50% or more than the indoor capacity of the establishment. As many restaurants spent thousands to create these patios in the first place, the proposal, if passed, leaves restaurant owners with only expensive options.

“We have three options, none of them good,” explained Joachim Lewis Diaz, a restaurant owner in Los Angeles, to the Globe on Friday. “For one, we can remove all the outdoor seating. Generally easy to do, but you need to remember that a lot of us spent a lot of money to create all this new outdoor seating. I spent a lot on tables and chairs alone. A lot of places are still paying off their patio expansions since some had to build mini-decks and things like that. And we are going to have even less seating now, so that means money lost too. And people needing to be let go due to the capacity going down.”

“For two, it means expanding and renovating to keep our current capacities with an indoor or semi-indoor expansion. This is easily a lot of money too, even on the low-end of contractors. A lot of new city permits are involved too, not to mention the restaurant possibly needing to be closed for a bit.”

“And for three it means getting the new permits, but this is easily thousands of dollars. I saw some people saying tens of thousands of dollars potentially. We’d get to keep the outdoor dining, but man, that’s a lot of money.”

“So every option is going to cost us. The city said, to remain open, we go outside. So we spent money and did that. Then they said keep going with it, so we made outdoor eating a big part of it. Now they’re saying it’s going to cost us to do the very thing they said was free and what we rely on now. That’s what a lot of us are looking at. That’s how screwed we are.”

Fight back against proposed ordinance

City officials have said that the proposal is simply more in line with the end of COVID-19 emergency orders in the city this month, as the al fresco program was a result of the emergency orders. With the orders going away, the city decided to make the program more permanent, but it also meant aligning it with city codes and laws.

“Restaurants will need to apply under the permanent Al Fresco Program in order to continue offering outdoor dining at their establishment,” noted LA City Planning chief external affairs officer Yeghig Keshishian in a statement on Tuesday. “The original intent behind L.A. Al Fresco was to provide restaurant operators the ability to temporarily keep their doors open during the height of the pandemic, as a result of waivers granted through the emergency orders. Now that those emergency orders are being lifted, the City must codify this program to preserve the original intent of L.A. Al Fresco.”

However, many restaurant owners now feel like they had been in the dark about their intent, or that the city is unduly punishing them for simply doing what the city asked and allowed only a few years before.

“We did what they asked and they told us what we could do,” added LA restaurant manager Cynthia Gracie to the Globe on Tuesday. “We spent $8,000 to expand outside to stay open, and we hired a bunch of people when indoor dining resumed and we needed the help. I mean, we even got a homeless man to be a dishwasher here. We thought we were doing good. Now it’s all crashing down.”

“So, LA, do you want us to pay thousands we don’t have, or remove all the outdoor seating, which means we lose profits and need to cut back on people? That’s our dilemma if this is passed.”

The ordinance is due to be heard in a public hearing on Wednesday, where heavy opposition from the restaurant industry is expected.

“There is so much riding on this,” continued Diaz. “A lot of restaurants are riding on this.”

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8 thoughts on “Los Angeles Restaurants Prepare To Fight Planned Outdoor Dining Limitations

  1. Democrats on the LA City Council, none of whom have ever started or run a small business, are once again imposing regulations and fees that crush small businesses. It’s a miracle that there are any small businesses left in LA? Democrats and their Marxist policies have destroyed the once great city of LA.

  2. There is an all out war on restaurants in this state. If it is not the French Laundry it must be shut down or severely penalized.

  3. It was inevitable this would occur. Government puts restrictions on indoor dining, to survive restaurants expand outdoors, government kinda rescinds its restrictions but now sees the emergency dining areas as potential cash cows. All so painfully obvious if you understand how governments work in California.

  4. It appears the Commucrats running LA realized that outdoor dining was helping small business. The goal of Communists is to destroy capitalism and create poverty to increase their power and control. Since a Communist major was just elected, I don’t see any change in LA happening soon.

  5. All this is is a money grab! Government needs to get out of businesses way, instead of jerking them around constantly! Why does a restaurant even need permission to operate??? They shouldn’t!

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