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City Council Could Make LA's Al Fresco Dining Program A Permanent Thing

A server takes orders in the outdoor dining area at Casa Vega in Sherman Oaks in July 2020.
(Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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As the pandemic recedes, which elements of the COVID-19 era will fall to the wayside and which will stick around? We can't predict the future* but it seems like Los Angeles Al Fresco, the city's outdoor dining program, could be here to stay.

On Wednesday, the L.A. City Council will consider a recommendation that would take the first steps to make L.A. Al Fresco a permanent program.

Launched last spring, the program allowed restaurants and bars to expand their dining areas into streets, sidewalks and parking lots so they could seat more customers while adhering to physical distancing requirements. The city also sped up the permitting process for these new outdoor dining areas and, in some cases, provided planters, barricades and umbrellas for them.

We're now in the yellow tier, the least restrictive phase of the the state's reopening plan, and Gov. Gavin Newsom has said most California counties should be out of the tier system entirely by mid-June.

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That means restaurants, bars, wineries, breweries and distilleries won't face the same limits on how many people they can serve. Which brings us back to L.A. Al Fresco. If the need it filled is gone, is it something we want to maintain?

Two people walk down a Burbank street that has been closed to vehicular traffic so restaurants can serve food outside, November 23, 2020.
AFP via Getty Images)

In some places, expanding outdoor dining into streets has meant limiting or closing those streets to traffic. There are pros and cons to that.

According to Bloomberg, a recent Yelp report suggests that consumers prefer dining at restaurants on pedestrian-friendly "slow streets," which limit or ban vehicle traffic.

Yelp's analysts looked at restaurant districts in five cities, including Burbank's San Fernando Boulevard, which limited vehicle access during the pandemic. Using the number of views, posted photos and user reviews on Yelp, they compared consumer interest in restaurants in these areas to consumer interest in restaurants at large in each city.

The upshot: "Eateries in car-free areas saw more consumer interest (based on the amount listings) when their streets were strictly limited to pedestrians and cyclists."

We're not sure how thorough or scientific this research is but it's an interesting dataset, especially since at least three dozen cities in the U.S. are planning or considering making pedestrian-friendly street changes introduced during the pandemic a permanent feature.

A sign for the "Slow Streets" Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) in West L.A., on May 16, 2020.
AFP via Getty Images)

In February, California Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian of Los Angeles introduced AB 773, a bill that would make it easier to create Slow Streets by allowing for local authorities to lower speed limits and permanently close streets to vehicles. The bill unanimously passed out of committee on May 6 and is headed for its third reading.

More immediately, on Wednesday, the L.A. City Council will decide whether or not it will ask the City Attorney, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the Bureau of Engineering, the Departments of Building and Safety and City Planning, and the Los Angeles Fire Department, to issue reports in 60 days on the feasibility of making the pilot Al Fresco program a permanent feature of L.A. life.

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*If we could predict the future, we would've bought Amazon stock ages ago and become so filthy rich we'd need a baby yacht to hang out with our regular yacht.

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