On July 6, the West Hollywood City Council unanimously voted to amend its Temporary Outdoor Expansion for Social Distance program and the permit process that assists in the reopening of businesses, and also updated other safety measures related to COVID-19.
The City Council approved a more streamlined online application process and approved specific hours for business operations for restaurants, gyms and fitness facilities, and retail stores.
Since June 1, the city has received 31 applications for the outdoor dining program and approved 19 for businesses to use sidewalks or private parking spaces to expand operations. The remaining 12 applications are still being reviewed by city staff.
Tara Worden, a business development analyst for the city, provided the City Council with a detailed analysis of the changes to the permit application and process.
“There has been a lot of back and forth between departments involved in the approval process including the Planning and Development Services Department, Building and Safety Division and the Department of Public Works with the engineering team there,” Worden said.
City staff received feedback from the business community, which sought a more accessible and streamlined process. The application was made available online, which has made obtaining a temporary expansion permit easier, Worden said.
However, she noted that there have been delays in obtaining permits because applicants must include site plans related to any temporary structures being built or used. But once applicants have submitted a permit application, a site plan and a certificate of insurance, business owners seeking to expand on the public right of way can expect to hear back within a week.
Under this city ordinance, restaurants bordering commercially zoned or non-residential property on all sides are permitted to operate from 8 a.m. to midnight, Sunday through Thursday, and from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m., Friday and Saturday.
Restaurants bordering residentially zoned property are permitted to operate from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Sunday. Restaurant owners may request later hours of operation through a hearing related to noise ordinance compliance.
Retail stores and gyms that are granted temporary outdoor expansion permits are allowed to operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m., and have specific guidelines on how to expand outdoors.
The City Council adopted the Temporary Outdoor Expansion for Social Distance program and permit process on June 1. The changes made to the city’s program and permit process on July 6 reflect the reopening of gyms, fitness facilities, retail and other business allowed by state and county officials.
West Hollywood resident John Erickson, a candidate for City Council in the November election, called in during the virtual council meeting to support the item. He said the updated plan will positively impact business owners and ensure they stay afloat.
“There are businesses that I patronize every day that would greatly take advantage of this,” Erickson said.
Genevieve Morrill, president and CEO of the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, called in during public comment to ask the City Council to approve the amendments to the city’s expansion process and permit.
“We need your help,” Morrill said. “This outdoor expansion will help, but we need more. We need your help to ensure we move swiftly and safely to reopen our community.”
She added as more businesses reopen they will need financial support to purchase personal protective equipment for staff and implement other protective measures to make their venues safe for employees and the public.
Council members agreed with Morrill that it’s time to engage in conversations about long-term solutions.
“It appears to me that COVID-19 will be staying with us for this year and possibly most of next year as well,” Councilman John Duran said. “Our local economy was built on tourism, fine dining, night clubs, bars and other entertainment venues. That is who we are on three of our major boulevards. This particular pandemic is threatening the profile of the city of West Hollywood.”
Councilwoman Lauren Meister suggested creating new policies and protections for businesses that encourage new businesses to open and will diversify the city’s economy.
“It’s a combination of planning policies that we have to do,” Meister said. “One might work, but a number of policies working in tandem [might be best] in protecting the identity of West Hollywood.”
City Manager Paul Arevalo added there are ongoing discussions about long-term solutions with the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, but as of now, the focus has been on providing a lifeline for businesses in dire need due to financial hardship caused by the COID-19 pandemic.
In addition to the business changes, Arevalo reiterated that West Hollywood residents must wear a face mask or covering while out in public or face administrative citations and fines.
“We warned folks about citations, and I don’t think they’ve done any citations yet. In fact people have been pretty responsive to the sheriffs,” Arevalo said.
Parks, parklets and dog parks are open to the public as well, with signs posted informing about proper health protocols. Arevalo added it has been a challenge for West Hollywood residents to follow rules at parks, and if that continues, the city may close the parks again.
“People need to keep a safe distance, wear a face covering in the park, and they need to abide by the rules because not only are they putting the patrons of the park at risk, they are putting themselves at risk,” Arevalo said.
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