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The outzones created to help allow restaurants to operate during the pandemic were made permanent at the Feb. 6 West Hollywood City Council meeting, amending an ordinance in the city’s municipal code.
“We want a more streamlined process for our businesses as well as giving them more flexibility to enter into agreements with their neighbors if they wish,” Mayor Sepi Shyne said. “Business success is a priority for council and we will continue to support our businesses to make sure they recover from COVID and continue to flourish in our city.”
Outdoor dining became popular when COVID restrictions put limitations on indoor occupancy.
“The outzones have been a critical component of how our city’s businesses reinvented themselves during the pandemic and created space where none existed,” Mayor Pro Tempore John Erickson said.
During the meeting, the council looked at design standards for how the outdoor spaces would be managed, including how much sidewalk space would be available to pedestrians and whether or not parking spaces would continue to be removed for businesses.
“What I was looking for were design standards that met both our understanding of how they should look long-term while also taking the needs of our residents into consideration, such as ADA requirements, cleanliness and overall impact. We overwhelmingly heard strong support for this critical investment and step forward for our businesses, and I’m glad we’re seeing outdoor dining reinvent itself in 2023 and beyond for West Hollywood and those that live, work and play here,” Erickson said.
While some residents and business owners were in favor of the motion, it was not without controversy.
“There are additional issues that have to be factored in, not least of which is parking, not least of which is the safety of bikes [and] scooter lanes and how the safety issues affect scooters and bikes and their ability to safely use those lanes,” resident Rick Watts said, noting that the council was voting to give up 170 “badly needed” parking spaces.
Under the approved motion, areas with less than a 12-foot sidewalk width could only have outdoor dining by taking over on-street parking as a permanent curb extension. Councilwoman Lauren Meister expressed concern over the safety of having the outzones extend into street parking spaces.
“The bottom line is, I am not in favor of outzones being located in the roadway – taking away parking spaces and creating a public safety hazard,” Meister said.
There was also concern over the narrower sidewalks on the eastern side of Santa Monica Boulevard, between La Brea Avenue and Kings Road.
“Staff noted that most of the narrow sidewalks were on the east side of Santa Monica Boulevard – where bike lanes were not feasible unless we eliminated parking spaces,” Meister said, evoking a motion that passed early in the same council meeting allowing for protected bike lanes on Santa Monica Boulevard. “After hearing the Santa Monica Boulevard bike lane item, I thought it was a logical conclusion that you can’t have both – you can’t use parking spaces for a bike lane and outdoor dining simultaneously. And since council majority passed the bike lane item, it did not make any sense to vote for outdoor dining outside of the sidewalks,” Meister said.
Meister was the lone “no” vote on the item, however. While Councilman John Heilman had voted against the protected bike lanes, he was in favor of the outzones.
Owner of Beaches West Hollywood Jacob Shaw highlighted how the outdoor dining extension is key to his business.
“[I’m] grateful … for what you’ve given us [with] the outzone program. We’ve tried to use it to the best of our ability to maintain our business … I didn’t know [if] we could survive [the pandemic], and this month we celebrate five years of business. We’re very thankful for that parachute. The parachute provided a hard landing, not a soft landing. We still have a tremendous amount of debt, a tremendous amount of rent to pay back. So, we’re not out of the woods yet. So that little bit of sidewalk that we get makes a big difference for us on our bottom line.”
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