Manhattan Beach to end restaurant outdoor dining decks on streets

Manhattan Beach city leaders will no longer allow restaurants to have outdoor dining decks on the streets. 

The outdoor dining decks emerged across the city in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a way to help restaurants maintain their business and keep customers safe. Prior to the incoming rule change, the deck program had been extended three times during the pandemic.

However, city officials decided to end the program starting January 3. Restaurants and businesses will then have three days following that date to remove the decks. 

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City officials cited congestion, traffic, parking, and sanitation as some of the main concerns. 

Restaurant owners believe the decision will heavily impact their business, saying the decks saved their livelihoods. 

"The only way to survive was thanks to the decks, to the patios so we spent additional money to create the patios, buy new furniture, make everything pretty, maintain it, and at the same time, hire new people," said Dario Vullo, the owner of Nando Trattoria. 

Nando Trattoria was opened in 2020 during the pandemic, and Vullo said it's been very difficult. 

"We didn't have any possibility to have a PPP, any grant or anything when the pandemic happened," he said.

Vullo said the majority of his customers prefer to eat outdoors, especially with the rise in Covid-19 cases. 

"To get rid of this patio also will mean not only a financial burden for our pockets, but most importantly we are going to lay off people that I hired, right after Christmas, and I don't think that's the best gift they can get. Right now with this new strain, more than ever, we need the decks. It's a shameful decision," said Vullo. 

Vullo also added the decks will be costly to take down. 

"It will be very tough for me to get rid of this. Who is going to enforce it? I'm in such financial hardship right now. I'm in a financial burden, and putting this stuff down is going to cost additional money and where will I store these tables. It doesn't make any sense. I'm in such disbelief. I cannot believe what they are thinking in their mind. They don't understand the cost of operating these decks," he said.

David Slay, the chef and owner of Slay Steak and Fish House, echoed those sentiments.  

"I think it's irresponsible. I think we all know what's going on right now. I had COVID really bad and I know for sure how dangerous it is and to have people forced to either not dine or dine inside, it's not gonna happen," he said.

Slay said he will also have to lay off staff. 

"If that happens on January 3, we're cutting about 30 percent of our force and that's a horrible thing to do. It took so long to get people back to work and a lot of people worked through this. It's a scary time right now and to be unemployed January 3rd will be a big shot in the gut to a lot of people," he said.

Bill Matthews, the Chief Operating Officer for Zislis Group, which owns The Strand House, is not in favor of the decision from city leaders.

"I think it's a very poor time request. We sit here and for public health, we see an increase in cases, we have the new variant and the guests love the outdoors and to go ahead and shut that down is absolutely poor, poor timing. It's almost controversial. How with a rise in cases would you force everyone indoors together? It doesn't make sense from a factual side," said Matthews. 

Matthews addressed the city's concerns about cleanliness parking. 

"I think the cleanliness has to do with each individual operator. Parking is not an issue. We're going into wintertime. This isn't summer. There's no big volleyball or major events at the beach. It's not an issue right now and hasn't been all year," said Matthews.

Matthews said people understand it's "beach parking" and have been utilizing rideshare apps like Uber.

"They need to rethink this and rethink this quickly. The timeline of having it done January 3 is really ridiculous. I think the operators, the other colleagues, and restaurateurs in town, the guests, the staff, we all are opposing this," he said.

Matthews said their structure required architectural and engineering work and will cost thousands of dollars to remove. 

Mayor Hildy Stern released a statement to FOX 11 regarding the decision: 

Broadly speaking, City Council understands that the community enjoys outdoor dining, and has directed staff to study long-term solutions. City Council has fully supported the temporary outdoor dining decks as a healthier option for dining and to help the struggling restaurants.

During this time, the City also learned a great deal about the impacts the dining decks have had in numerous ways. These impacts include quality of life issues for residents and inequities for other citywide businesses and restaurants who could not afford to build decks, or may rely on the parking spaces for their customers. In addition, ongoing maintenance and upkeep of the area such as street repairs, storm drain upkeep, trash removal and street cleaning have all been postponed but need to be reinstated. Further, congestion, parking, traffic, safety, sanitation, and noise, which affect residents and visitors, must be taken into consideration. Finally, this program comes at a financial cost to the City, and therefore, our taxpayers.

The use of the public right-of-way for outdoor dining requires a comprehensive analysis that includes feedback from all stakeholders and careful consideration of all that we have learned since inception of the program.  That is why the City Council directed City staff to thoroughly study this as a long-term option.

Outdoor dining on sidewalks, patios and other public right-of-ways is not affected by this change, and is widely available throughout Manhattan Beach.