Orange County Cities Extend Street Closures to Help Outdoor Dining

November 19, 2020 Updated: November 19, 2020

Some restaurants in Orange County are using public property to accommodate extra outdoor dining space, now that they’re forbidden from serving customers indoors.

The Southern California county entered the state’s most restrictive COVID-19 tier on Nov. 16, triggering the closure of theaters and indoor gyms. Restaurants can remain open for outdoor service and takeaway only.

To accommodate the latest rules, some cities from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach have shut down public streets to traffic, allowing pedestrians to access restaurants’ outdoor seating areas, and have even extended the closures in response to the ongoing pandemic.

Placentia

In Placentia, the City Council unanimously approved the extended closure of its Old Town’s Santa Fe Avenue until July 2021 to allow restaurants to create more outdoor dining.

Joseph Lambert, Placentia’s director of development services, told The Epoch Times that while outdoor restaurant traffic has varied since the avenue closed in August, there were plenty of times when every table was occupied.

“The restaurants that I’ve talked to are indicating it’s been quite successful, maybe even better than no street closure … or maybe even better than pre-COVID [attendance], in a way,” Lambert said.

Lambert also said that the decision by the Placentia City Council to extend the outdoor dining proclamation was a great decision, given the upswing in COVID-19 cases.

“Now, there’s a chance that … we may not need it anymore. So [the street closure] could come down prior to that. Council could change their mind,” he said.

“But looking back, I think that was a good move, because now we have six, eight months of leeway based on whatever is going to happen.”

While Sante Fe Avenue is the only true street closure in Placentia, other enterprises in the city are using parking lots or other types of outdoor areas to facilitate business.

Lambert said Placentia also has provided a series of grants, with some businesses getting up to $2,000 to combat the effects of the pandemic. Additionally, all of the furniture used by Santa Fe Avenue restaurants was purchased by the city, he said.

Huntington Beach

Following the county’s tier drop, the Huntington Beach City Council voted Nov. 16 to extend the city’s temporary closure of the second and third blocks of Main Street from traffic until March 2021.

A letter sent to Huntington Beach council members by the Huntington Beach Downtown Business Improvement District indicated that a public survey completed by 429 people in the downtown advocacy group’s customer base showed that “public sentiment about the closures [was] overwhelmingly positive.”

The Nov. 12 letter noted that businesses on the second block of Main Street were “very consistent in their support for a continued closure.”

Conversely, the survey revealed that business owners on the first and third blocks of Main Street were more divided on whether the street should remain closed to vehicle traffic. Those owners expressed concerns that the street’s partial closure was creating traffic planning challenges, parking shortages, and unpleasant aesthetics.

Epoch Times Photo
Laurent Vrignaud (C) serves pastries to pedestrians in the newly opened promenade in Laguna Beach, Calif., on June 15, 2020. (Jamie Joseph/The Epoch Times)

Laguna Beach

Similarly, Laguna Beach opened a European-style art walk on June 15 in an effort to generate economic recovery for restaurants, retailers, and art galleries. The open-air promenade stretches on Forest Avenue from the Pacific Coast Highway to Glenneyre Street, full of outdoor seating for eating establishments, performance art, and display decks.

The Laguna Beach City Council originally voted on May 12 to create the promenade, which was scheduled to end on Sept. 7—but voted to extend the outdoor dining expansion on Aug. 11. The pedestrian-only street is now scheduled to remain closed through Jan. 31, 2021.

Fountain Valley

Fountain Valley has taken a different route, now allowing businesses, religious institutions, and cultural groups to use public open spaces to conduct business or activities.

The city’s original COVID-19 emergency order, passed in June, only allowed restaurants to use their privately-owned sidewalks and parking lots to conduct business, but the Fountain Valley City Council amended the order in September.

The use of public space comes with stipulations including the approval of a required permit, limited hours of operation, the way spaces can be used, and daily litter cleanup. There is no expiration date for the order.