A hallmark of effective policymaking is a commitment to giving constituents what they want. California constituents up and down the state (particularly in tourism-heavy locales such as Los Angeles) have spoken – loudly and repeatedly. People want al fresco dining.
But outdoor dining as we know it will end if the city of LA adopts a proposed ordinance that requires new al fresco restrictions and fees. During the pandemic, an emergency-era program allowed restaurant owners in LA to complete online applications for free permits within minutes that authorized them to set up dining areas in the street, along sidewalks and curbsides, and on outdoor private property.
Under the new proposal, restaurants could pay tens of thousands of dollars for permits and wait months for approval.
BizFed leaders have spoken up loudly and repeatedly in opposition. I had the privilege of joining the Southern California Association of Government’s (SCAG’s) Global Land Use & Economic (GLUE) Council this week to discuss the benefits of al fresco flexibility.
We thank SCAG leaders for stepping up immediately following my presentation to offer their support as business leaders fight to save al fresco dining – and mom-and-pop restaurants that can’t afford new permits for existing patios.
I’d like to share some highlights from my presentation about the broad economic contributions of restaurants, the value of sensible al fresco policies, BizFed’s specific concerns about LA’s proposed ordinance, and pragmatic solutions that other cities have implemented.
- RESTAURANTS FEED THE ECONOMY. The leisure and hospitality sector supports 528,200 jobs in Los Angeles County – nearly 12% of the workforce. BizFed members include the California Restaurant Association, Latino Restaurant Association, and Latino Food Industry Association. These groups represent 3,700 employers in California.
- AL FRESCO HELPED RESTAURANTS SURVIVE COVID. LA’s al fresco program equipped 2,500 restaurants to reopen and expand outdoor dining during the pandemic. From February to May 2021, nearly two-thirds of California’s job growth was in the leisure and hospitality sector, spurred in part by al fresco dining policies.
- KEY CONCERNS ARE COST & COMPLEXITY. Under the new proposal, permits could cost $20,000. A restaurant that needs help applying could pay another $20,000 for a consultant.
- AGENCIES MUST ALIGN EFFORTS. Under the proposed ordinance, LA Building & Safety could approve an al fresco plan, only for fire officials to require changes 60 days later.
- LET’S GET PERMANENT POLICIES RIGHT. A small restaurant owner should be able to complete an application on their own, without hiring a consultant, and expect a decision in a reasonable timeframe. We support a self-certification process similar to the city of San Francisco’s model.
We invite you to borrow advocacy language and data
from our GLUE presentation slides and letter to the city.
A new statewide bill authored by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel could save outdoor dining as we know it by making many of today’s permitting leniencies permanent. If signed into law, AB 1217 would supersede city and county ordinances that require new permit applications and fees – including LA’s proposed ordinance. AB 1217 builds upon pandemic relief measures in AB 61, which BizFed leaders helped push across the finish line in 2021 to expand outdoor cooking and other outdoor restaurant operations.