The Los Angeles City Council on Nov. 4 approved the concept of making the L.A. Al Fresco outdoor dining program permanent, but asked for city departments to prepare a report on the dynamics of extending the program beyond current public health emergencies and to report back before a final decision is made.
Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti launched the L.A. Al Fresco program in May to give restaurants struggling under public health orders restricting indoor dining more options. In many communities, restaurants have set up temporary dining areas on sidewalks and in curbside lanes blocked off by K-rail barriers. City Councilman David Ryu, 4th District, recently sought to build on the program’s success, introducing a motion calling for it to be permanent.
“Thousands of restaurants across our city have turned to L.A. Al Fresco to stay in business,” Ryu added. “It’s absolutely something we should make permanent. It’s in the best interest of our city and our communities to help our local restaurants thrive.”
Councilwoman-elect Nithya Raman, who will take office on Dec. 14, said she also supports the L.A. Al Fresco program.
“I think outdoor dining should continue not just through the period of COVID but even after. I think it’s good for Los Angeles on the whole,” Raman said. “I’m hoping that we can make it successful long term.”
Other city officials also support the program, including Councilman Paul Koretz, 5th District. Some of the restaurants on Melrose Avenue including the Blu Jam Cafe and Village Idiot have offered outdoor dining under the project. Koretz helped arrange for K-rails to be placed in front of the restaurants, his spokeswoman Ali Simard said.
“With COVID and the economy taking a hard hit, he is so grateful that this program is available,” Simard added. “Taking into account our climate, which affords year-round outdoor dining opportunities, and that it helps small business, the program is good.”
While many support L.A. Al Fresco, some said it has not had a significant benefit for their community. In Hollywood, few businesses have been able to take advantage of the programs, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rana Ghadban said.
She said the streets on which many restaurants are located are main thoroughfares and have speed limits too high for safe outdoor dining. Ghadban added that an increase in homelessness has also discouraged owners from embracing outdoor dining.
“I think unfortunately, the L.A. Al Fresco program has not really been utilized by most businesses in Hollywood and that is due to many factors,” Ghadban said. “The issue of homeless encampments has really heightened in Hollywood during the pandemic. I think that has made it harder for businesses to take advantage of the al fresco program and Hollywood is not really conducive to the outdoor dining solution. It’s unfortunate, but that this is a reality.”
Raman said that is one of the many overarching issues that should be addressed in creating a better overall approach to solving homelessness, and impacts on the economy is one of the aspects she plans to consider. Simard added that there are many other factors under consideration, including funding, logistics and how the program will be managed in the future. Councilman Joe Buscaino, 15th District, has proposed possibly placing outdoor dining under the purview of business improvement districts. Simard added that the city may consider whether it makes more sense to have outdoor dining spaces in areas where multiple restaurants can take advantage of the program at the same time, like the Melrose District.
“As it is a new program, it’s going to have growing pains,” she said. “We will have to see what works throughout the city.”