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City Releases Updated Draft of Al Fresco Dining Ordinance for Private Property

The kind of al fresco dining space, on a restaurant’s private property, that would be regulated under a new Al Fresco Dining Ordinance currently proposed by the LA Department of City Planning. (Photo from LADCP.)

 

The City of Los Angeles recently published a second draft of its proposed ordinance to legalize restaurants’ temporary outdoor dining spaces on private property, including patios and parking lots.  And it appears that at least some of the issues that concerned restaurateurs in a previous draft of the ordinance have been addressed in this second version.

As we first reported in November, the City of Los Angeles is in the process of figuring out how to help restaurants that opened outdoor dining spaces during the COVID-19 emergency period make those spaces permanent, even though the emergency orders that first allowed them have now expired.  But as we further reported in March, there was a large outcry from the public, and especially restaurant owners, about several aspects of city’s initial Al Fresco Dining proposal, such as how much parking lot space outdoor dining can take, how liquor service in outdoor dining spaces will be permitted, and whether or not outdoor dining spaces can be rented out for private events.

Now, however, it looks like some of those complaints have been heard and addressed in the new draft of the proposed ordinance.  For example, the new draft eliminates limits on how many parking spaces can be used to create an outdoor dining area, allows a simple administrative approval for liquor service in the outdoor dining area if the restaurant is already permitted to serve alcohol, and does allow private rentals of outdoor dining spaces.

On the other hand, however, there are a few issues raised by the first draft of the Al Fresco Ordinance which have not been addressed in this second draft.

First, some people objected to the overall approach the city is taking to permanently permit outdoor dining, which lays out two different application processes, depending on where the dining area is located.  One path (managed by the Department of City Planning – and the subject of the current Al Fresco Ordinance draft) is for outdoor dining spaces on a restaurant’s private property…while a second process (involving the Bureau of Street Services, Bureau of Engineering, and other city agencies) would govern dining spaces on public property (streets, sidewalks, etc.).  But many stakeholders, especially restaurant owners who have both kinds of outdoor dining spaces, have said this is too complicated, and could require at least some restaurants to go through two separate, lengthy, and costly permitting efforts, just to legalize what they were originally encouraged by the city to build. [Note:  most, if not all, of our Larchmont Blvd. restaurants use public spaces for their outdoor dining areas, so they would NOT be affected by this particular Al Fresco Ordinance…although it would affect many of our other area restaurants that do have recently-installed outdoor dining areas on private property.]

Also, many restaurateurs pointed out that the super-streamlined pandemic-emergency-era outdoor dining permits were highly successful, and most restaurants approved during that process have been operating without any issues since then.  So they argued when the first draft of the  Al Fresco ordinance was proposed that their temporary permits should simply be grandfathered now, with only new applicants having to apply under the permanent rules once they’re established.

But neither of those two basic approaches appear to have changed in the new draft of the Al Fresco Dining Ordiance.  This draft does say, however, that restaurants currently operating with temporary Al Fresco permits would receive a simple, ministerial approval from the Planning Department for their permanent permits, which would allow them to go straight to the Department of Building and Safety for more detailed review of structural elements.  So that is a partial simplification.

Also, according to the city’s Fact Sheet for the Al Fresco Ordinance, the draft ordinance now:

 

  • Removes restrictions the square footage restaurants can devote to outdoor seating on private property;
  • Rescinds existing rules that limit outdoor dining to the ground floor only,  and now allows outdoor dining in courtyards, patios, plazas, balconies;
  • Allows restaurants already serving alcohol under temporary Al Fresco rules to be “deemed approved” for continued alcohol service in outdoor areas, and provides a streamlined administrative clearance, instead of a lengthier and more costly discretionary review process;
  • Establishes that the Al Fresco Ordinance permissions supersede conflicting provisions of any Specific Plan, Supplemental Use District or other overlay, to allow for consistent outdoor dining standards citywide.

 

Here’s a chart with a bit more information, comparing the rules on key points in the original Temporary Al Fresco program, the initial draft of the permanent Al Fresco Ordinance, and the newly revised draft:

 

 

Next Steps & More Information

 

The new draft of the proposed Al Fresco Ordinance, for outdoor dining on restaurants’ private property, is scheduled to be heard by the City Planning Commission on April 27 (item #8 on the agenda).

For more information, see the city’s website for the ordinance…or the more concise Fact Sheet & FAQ

And if you still have questions, or would like to submit a comment on the proposal, contact Mary Richardson, at [email protected].

 

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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. On Larchmont it really opens our sidewalks which used to be crowded with an assortment dining tables. Made it sort of a maze navigating the tables when they were on the sidewalk. Hopefully the Al Fresco dinging ordinance will continue.

    • Note that this ordinance ONLY affects outdoor dining areas on private property, such as parking lots, patios, and roof decks. It does not govern al fresco areas in the public right of way (e.g. sidewalks, streets, etc.), so it won’t affect many, if any, of our Larchmont Blvd. restaurants. Outdoor dining on public land, such as the street and sidewalk platforms on Larchmont, will be regulated through a separate process that the city hasn’t yet drafted.

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