Los Angeles al fresco dining one step closer to becoming permanent

The Los Angeles City Planning Commission Thursday approved a proposed "al fresco" outdoor dining program, which was initiated at the height of the coronavirus pandemic as a relief tool for restaurant owners struggling to negotiate health restrictions that shut down their indoor dining rooms.

The updated proposed ordinance would create a pathway for neighborhood restaurants to provide outdoor dining areas on private property. The ordinance is billed a key component of the city's economic strategy for supporting local jobs and business that were struggled during the pandemic.

"While COVID-19 emergency measures at the state and local levels granted temporary relief, they did not provide a pathway to make outdoor dining a permanent reality," Samantha Millman, president of the Planning Commission, said. "Our proposed updates build upon the success of LA Alfresco, making a permanent outdoor dining program accessible and financially viable for restaurants citywide."

The ordinance would also remove restrictions on outdoor dining on private property, such as size limits tied to indoor dining areas and restrictions on where outdoor dining can be located. It would also relax parking requirements on private property for outdoor dining areas.

Qualifying businesses would be authorized to expand their alcohol service into the outdoor dining areas through a streamlined online verification process.

"This updated ordinance amends the zoning code to set up restaurateurs and small business owners for greater success," Vince Bertoni, director of city planning, said in a statement. "Outdoor dining is another instrument that contributed to neighborhood vibrancy and character."

Mayor Karen Bass issued a statement following the Planning Commission's vote expressing her support of an updated al fresco ordinance.

"Al fresco shows us a better way to support small businesses, create jobs and add vibrancy to our neighborhoods. This is a huge step in the right direction for restaurants, their workers and their customers," Bass said in a statement. "My office will continue working to create a permanent program that helps restaurants and communities thrive."

The mayor has previously directed city departments to create a permanent al fresco program, including a simple application process that is easier to navigate for business owners.

The proposed ordinance will go before the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee at a future date.