LA County Advances Effort to Maintain Outdoor Dining Program

By City News Service
City News Service
City News Service
April 20, 2022 Updated: April 20, 2022

LOS ANGELES—The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors moved closer to adopting a permanent outdoor dining program in unincorporated areas on April 19, following the success of temporary measures put in place to assist restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The board last year instructed its staff to outline steps required to make the outdoor dining program permanent. A subsequent report noted that a pair of ordinances would be required to amend regulations governing uses of public rights-of-way, and governing uses on private property.

The board on April 19 instructed its legal staff to craft those ordinances, and bring them back for approval within the next six months.

According to a motion by Supervisor Holly Mitchell, the ordinance regarding public rights-of-way must address requirements “for permits, permit fees, and design plans, including standard design plans; requirements for traffic impacts and controls; standards for maintenance and repair of facilities in the public right-of-way; and procedures for alley closures and other public right-of-way vacations.”

In terms of private property uses, the ordinance must address issues such as dining area size, barriers, signage, outdoor lighting, live entertainment, amplified sounds and trash disposal, along with parking requirements.

During the pandemic, when public health regulations banned indoor dining, the county and many other jurisdictions enacted rules allowing eateries to set up temporary outdoor seating areas, often on sidewalks, in parking areas or alleyways.

Mitchell noted the success of the program for restaurants, noting it “helped keep many of their doors open during a very tough time.”

With the pandemic now waning, the outdoor dining options have remained popular, leading to calls for the program to be made permanent. In a staff report to the Board of Supervisors in September, county officials noted some potential issues—most notably the use of tents for dining areas that are sometimes placed in fire access zones.

County fire officials also noted that tent structures in place for more than six months are subject to more stringent fire and structural codes.

Those issues would likely need to be addressed in ordinances brought back to the board for further review.

Mitchell noted on April 19, however, that the range of businesses that took advantage of the outdoor dining program was not evenly distributed throughout the county. She noted that no restaurants in her district took part, and countywide, minority-owned businesses were under-represented in the program.

She said the county “must proactively reach out” to businesses to encourage them to take part in the program, particularly minority-run businesses.

“We can’t expect businesses to take advantage of these opportunities if they’re not aware of them,” she said.

In a companion motion by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn—who initially spearheaded the effort to continue outdoor dining—the board instructed the county’s Public Works, Public Health, and Regional Planning departments to craft a joint letter to all 88 incorporated cities in the county to encourage them to also implement or extend outdoor dining programs.