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Al Fresco Dining In Los Angeles Is Now One Step Closer To Becoming Permanent

A young woman with a ponytail, wearing a white shirt and black pants, with a blue face mask and a large plastic face shield, waits on diners in the outdoor patio area of a restaurant where several wood tables with wicker-backed chairs are positioned around tall space heaters behind a chain-linked posts.
A wait staff employee takes customers' orders in the outdoor seating area of a restaurant in Los Angeles on Jan. 28, 2021.
(Valerie Macon
AFP via Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles City Planning Commission met Thursday and unanimously approved a proposal that would permanently extend a temporary ordinance that eased restrictions on outdoor dining during the pandemic.

The backstory

The temporary ordinance allowed restaurants to transform outdoor spaces, including sidewalks, parking lots, and converted parking spaces known as parklets, into open-air dining spaces.

An illustrated street indicates where outdoor tables were allowed in the street, sidewalk and on private property
When the city expanded al fresco dining during the height of the pandemic they issued guidance on where dining tables and chairs were allowed. Now L.A. Mayor Karen Bass says she's like to see the program continue.
(Courtesy City of L.A.)
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With indoor dining largely prohibited during the pandemic and restaurants struggling to survive on takeout orders, the temporary measure brought back customers for in-person, al fresco meals and provided a crucial opportunity for restaurants to keep on employees and to keep their doors open.

With the ordinance set to expire on May 11, many restaurant owners feared they could lose the popular al fresco option if the city returned to highly restrictive pre-pandemic regulations, which included cutting through complex red tape and paying high fees. Some said the move could force them out of business.

Mayor Bass offers support for al fresco dining

Under pressure from both restaurateurs and diners, Mayor Karen Bass proposed a new Al Fresco Ordinance that would ease zoning restrictions and amend the approval process for restaurants to establish or keep their existing outdoor dining areas.

Applications for outdoor dining would no longer require approval from the planning commission and instead go straight to the building and safety committees. The fees associated with serving alcohol outdoors would be cut. There would also be unlimited access to parking spaces converted for parklet use.

During the session, the planning commission heard from city officials such as city planners, and engineers as well as restaurant owners, members of the public, neighborhood councils and advocacy groups.

The ordinance passed with changes to curfew times, new rules about ambient music and guidance about structures.

The city council will now vote on the ordinance in the next few weeks.

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Updated April 27, 2023 at 1:17 PM PDT
This story was updated with news the proposal passed the committe.
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