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Al Fresco Dining Options Being Considered In Area Cities

The walls of the popular Diplomat restaurant in Monrovia ironically depict the speakeasy times of prohibition. – Photo by Terry Miller / Beacon Media News

By Terry Miller

The massive economic effect of COVID-19 has been acutely arduous on restaurants which were already financially fraught before the pandemic caused a shutdown of watering holes and eateries.

Initially, many restaurants tapped into the take-out and delivery options only to find out that this was not sustainable, especially if third party delivery services are used. Delivery apps normally collect between 15 and 30 percent in fees, prompting cities across the country to pass caps on delivery fees to help struggling restaurants’ bottom line. The companies, for their part, have temporarily changed their fees or now offer extra assistance to help restaurants. As small businesses struggles, delivery apps have seen an increase in business over the past two months.

There have been numerous proposals by various city administrators, chambers of commerce directors, and restaurant industry professionals to help these businesses.

The idea of blocking off main drags of cities to traffic so that businesses such as restaurants can survive and thrive is gaining traction and, subsequently, publicity.

Paul Little, president of the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, said he thinks the idea would be a huge boon to cities that participate in the project and has some other suggestions to get the economy back to a sustainable model.
“Pasadena Small Business Relief Fund is headed to Ed Tech this week, I am told. We are solidifying the operational piece now,” Little said in an email to Pasadena Independent last Friday.

“I did comment on the CM’s (city manager) report on Monday and asked they consider the following:

  • “Allowing restaurants to be able to serve alcohol with food and not be required to get a CUP from the city … Currently, CUPs expire after a certain length of closure or vacancy. I asked that be suspended.
  • “Consider allowing restaurants and retailers to expand onto sidewalk, parking lots or into the street to accommodate more customers.
  • “Continue take-away alcohol service through 2020 and maybe make it permanent along with food service.
  • “Alcohol service be allowed by right in adjacent public spaces for restaurants already serving alcohol.
  • “Nothing be done that adds additional costs to opening for businesses.
  • “Encourage City staff to patronize Pasadena businesses via weekly emails to staff.
  • “Fund the Pasadena Small Business Relief Fund.”

In Monrovia, the hard hit Myrtle Avenue (Old Town) has been coined “Mold Town” by some people frustrated with mandates that have potentially destroyed the future of so many businesses.

Ashley Mackenzie, a frequent visitor to Monrovia said it is sad to see so many shops and restaurants closed, even with the slow re-opening options. “Myrtle Avenue is almost a ghost town now; or as my friends say, Old Town is really now Mold Town.”

Closing off Myrtle Avenue, and giving restaurants a chance to survive by seating on the street is something several people have proposed during this pandemic. Last week, Brad Haugaard proposed this very idea on his blog, Monrovia Now.

The city manager of Monrovia replied:

“Clearly, there are a lot of us on the same wavelength! Just to let you know that City staff has already been mulling the idea of providing additional opportunities for restaurants and other businesses when the time is right … not only on Myrtle, but throughout Monrovia. I know that the folks at the Chamber are talking about this too.

“While we’re still bound by the County and state orders, we’re all looking forward to a time when we can support all of our business community to the fullest.”

The forward thinking City of Berkley wants it to happen now.

According to Eater San Francisco, “Owners of the Bay Area’s restaurants agree on one thing: It’ll be damn near impossible to stay in business if their dining room capacity is cut. While California’s guidelines for restaurant reopening don’t specify a specific slash in capacity, they do require social distancing measures between patrons and workers, which means that to make enough money to remain afloat, restaurants need way more space to serve diners. In response, officials across the Bay Area have discussed taking over street space for restaurant use — and now, Berkeley has put that discussion into action, as today [May 14] it introduced legislation to fully close many of the city’s streets, repurposing them as seating areas for the city’s vibrant restaurant scene.”

In Sierra Madre, there is a “Sierra Madre Cares Initiative.” As part of that initiative, and in an effort to assist Sierra Madre food establishments during the County’s Safer at Home reopening strategy, the City of Sierra Madre has announced a plan to provide opportunities for outdoor seating and dining throughout Downtown Sierra Madre.

“Our local restaurants have done a tremendous job of operating safely and in compliance with the State and County safer-at-home orders” said City Manager Gabriel Engeland. “Allowing restaurants to expand their outdoor seating capacity will enable them to serve more customers while still practicing social distancing.”

Through the City’s analysis of the Downtown areas, staff identified locations on West Sierra Madre Boulevard and North Baldwin Avenue that could be transformed to provide expanded outdoor seating and dining that can accommodate social distancing, while increasing restaurant capacity, allowing customers to dine. This feature of the Sierra Madre Cares initiative would provide for:

  • Permitting the use of some private parking lots to use as dining areas.
  • Permitting the use of sidewalk areas beyond traditional constraints.
  • Permitting the use of some street parking stalls for seating.
  • Permitting areas of Kersting Court (details still yet to be determined).

In all cases, permits will be required. Permits will be administrative and there will not be a fee charged for the permit. However, the permits include provisions to protect public safety, including keeping the areas clear of trash and debris, maintaining Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) rights, and closely following the County Health Department guidelines for business reopening requirements.

“Sierra Madre cares about our local restaurants, where we spend time with our families and meet our friends and neighbors while enjoying a wide variety of cuisine. Our restaurants make Sierra Madre the ‘Gem of the San Gabriel Valley,’ and we’re so happy to be able to help in this small way to keep them viable while keeping employees and guests safe!” said Mayor John Capoccia.

Sierra Madre collaborated on this program through their partnership with the Chamber of Commerce. Chamber President Luther Tsinoglou said, “The Sierra Madre Chamber and City recognize that our local businesses are struggling from the effects of COVID-19. We want to work with the City to help out businesses and the community as much as possible. This is a step in the right direction.”

City staff will reach out to qualifying business in the upcoming weeks. To apply for a permit in Sierra Madre, contact Chris Cimino, director of Public Works, at (626) 355-7135 or ccimino@cityofsierramadre.com.

May 21, 2020

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Terry Miller


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