L.A. allows restaurants to use sidewalks, parking lots for outdoor dining

Garrett Snyder
Seven restaurants in downtown San Pedro showcased the new outdoor dining program L.A. Al Fresco on Friday.  (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti announced in a news conference Friday that the city would allow parking lots and sidewalks to be used as outdoor dining areas, a move aimed at increasing seating for restaurants reopening with reduced indoor capacity.

The temporary program, called L.A. Al Fresco, streamlines the approval process for restaurants looking to increase outdoor seating.

The program will cover sidewalks and parking lots initially, Garcetti said, potentially expanding to include streets and parklets, based on interest from restaurants and local business associations.

A section of West 6th Street in San Pedro was closed Friday for dining between Mesa and Centre streets.  (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

“I know it’s hard for restaurants to make a profit at reduced capacity,” Garcetti said. “But what this allows is for you to have more people, even with that reduced capacity.”

Outdoor dining permits, for which eligible restaurants can apply through a city website, would be issued immediately and last for 90 days. Restaurants with existing alcohol permits are allowed to serve alcohol within approved areas.

Several L.A. City Council members worked in conjunction with the mayor's office to design and implement the initiative.

"We are cutting red tape and making it easier for restaurants to use and share outside spaces," L.A. City Councilman Mike Bonin said in a statement. "This will protect the health and safety of restaurant employees and customers by making it easier to accommodate physical distancing."

Sloane Sires of Long Beach, right, delivers a beer to Keith Gaxiola, center, of Santa Monica as people dine at the San Pedro Brewing Co. on Friday.  (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

On Friday afternoon in downtown San Pedro, L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino — one of the proposal’s main proponents — hosted a dress rehearsal of what the outdoor dining program might look like if expanded to include street closures.

Dozens of tables and umbrellas were set up along West Sixth Street between Mesa and Centre streets as customers ordered nachos and beers from nearby San Pedro Brewing Co. and were waited on by restaurant employees.

The waterfront town of San Pedro had discussed expanding sidewalk dining for years, Buscaino said, but the economic challenges caused by COVID-19 gave the outdoor dining initiative a greater urgency.

“There’s been a great deal of interest from other council members, and we’re hoping [San Pedro’s outdoor dining plan] can be a blueprint for other parts of the city,” Buscaino said.

As summer approaches, L.A. is the latest city transforming public space into al fresco dining areas to help struggling businesses. Long Beach, Pasadena and Palm Springs have adopted similar measures, as have cities across the country, including Tampa, Fla., and Portland, Maine.