Recent research conducted by the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies reveals the economic success of the temporary COVID-era LA Al Fresco outdoor dining program in Larchmont Village. Local restaurants that participated in the program generated an additional 3.4 million dollars in sales tax revenue according to the UCLA study.
With temporary authorizations set to expire soon and a recent vote by the full City Council, the three outdoor dining components: sidewalk, curbside and off-street dining will soon be merged into one cohesive, permanent program. Here’s a closer look at the performance of curbside dining during the pandemic on Larchmont Boulevard, based on my recent research.
Background on L.A. Al Fresco Outdoor Dining
The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a reimagining of our neighborhood streets, including Larchmont Boulevard, transforming vacant parking spaces and lots into vibrant centers of social and economic activity. The temporary outdoor dining program emerged as a crucial support system for local businesses, enabling them to stay afloat and offering a social respite for Angelenos during lockdowns. Throughout the pandemic, Larchmont Village has exemplified a successful model for outdoor dining, capitalizing on its walkable and pedestrian-friendly commercial corridor. While curbside dining has been the primary focus in the neighborhood, recent attention on off-street dining during the process of creating a permanent program raises questions about the future of curbside dining in Larchmont Village.
Motivated by a desire to evaluate the success of the temporary outdoor dining program, my recent collaboration with UCLA, “Dining or Parking? Managing the Curb During COVID-19 and Beyond: An Analysis of the L.A. Al Fresco Program,” compared parking meter revenue and sales tax in case study areas like Larchmont Village. Working alongside urban planning professor and parking expert Donald Shoup, and Jaclyn Garcia, a Senior Transportation Planner from LADOT’s L.A. Al Fresco division, we collected and analyzed data, focusing on high-participation corridors such as Larchmont Village.
Curbside Dining in Larchmont Village
The study released in June 2023 highlighted the participation of eleven curbside dining restaurants on Larchmont Boulevard between 1st Street and Beverly Boulevard.
In 2019, these establishments collectively raked in almost $11 million in gross sales. Fast forward to 2022, and the same restaurants exceeded expectations, boasting over $14 million in gross sales, marking a substantial 30% increase with the help of the L.A. Al Fresco program.
The findings revealed that the L.A. Al Fresco outdoor dining program generated a nearly $4 million increase in sales for Larchmont Village. This represents a 30% increase in gross sales from 2022 compared to pre-pandemic 2019. This notable increase is attributed to restaurants leveraging the flexibility to expand their floor space and dining capacity by converting up to two metered on-street parking spaces into outdoor dining areas.
However, when it comes to the city’s share in this revenue stream, the story takes a different turn. A meager 1% of the overall sales tax revenue finds its way to the city, with the lion’s share—99%—remitted to the state. In 2019, the tax revenue contributed by these eleven businesses to Larchmont Village was nearly $14,000. Despite the surge in gross sales, the city’s tax revenue saw a modest increase, reaching $20,000 in 2022 from the same set of restaurants.
Since 2020, these eleven curbside restaurants have occupied a total of 20 metered on-street parking spaces. The study unveiled that these 20 parking meters were cash cows in 2019, raking in about $70,000 collectively. On average, that’s $3,500 per meter per year. In comparison to the four other study corridors, Larchmont Village comes in second for revenue per parking meter, with Westwood Village taking the lead.
For anyone who’s cruised down Larchmont Boulevard by car, the sea of vehicles and occasional drivers snuggled into the center median or by a red curb is hard to miss. Parking predicaments are nothing new, and certainly not exclusive to Larchmont Village. As the city fine-tunes its permanent program, business owners are left to ponder the looming question of how Larchmont’s parking landscape will be reshaped or whether they will lose curbside dining altogether.
Coming Soon: The Permanent L.A. Al Fresco Program
On December 8, 2023, the Los Angeles City Council voted on and approved the permanent program, which now includes a provision to mandate at least one parking space for vehicles if the business decides to convert the off-street parking into outdoor dining. In Larchmont Village, no off-street dining has been utilized as of yet, with most Al Fresco participants deciding to partake in sidewalk or curbside dining in on-street metered spaces. The permanent ordinance for the other portions of the L.A. Al Fresco program, including curbside and sidewalk dining, has also been finalized and imposes new fees for curbside dining. The fees, which will only apply to outdoor dining in on-street parking spaces, are applicable to both existing and new businesses.
The application fees, $1,500 for new participants and $1,200 for existing businesses are one-time fees in addition to other minor fees like the new Bureau of Engineering (BOE)’s Revocable Permit (R-Permit) Fee (see below). Outdoor dining on the sidewalk and in off-street lots will remain application fee free and all three types of dining will be accessible on the new, soon-to-launch L.A. Al Fresco application portal. The new portal will also allow concerned individuals to file complaints, such as noise and other nuisances in order to ensure compliance with the new permanent program.
The permanent program was voted on and approved by the full City Council on Friday, December 8, 2023. It is now waiting to be signed by Mayor Bass, and then published for 30 days before becoming established law. It is anticipated that the temporary authorizations will be extended to provide time for existing businesses to submit a new application under the permanent program.
“Without Al Fresco we would have not been in business and it is what people enjoy and feel safe dining in even though it is three years past the pandemic, especially elderly and immunocompromised people,” said Nora Houndalas of Le Petit Greek Restaurant in Larchmont Village. Le Petit, like most participating businesses, reported many positive correlations from the program, including increased sales, increased foot traffic, and staff retention. Le Petit Greek recently closed its doors in favor of a new fast-casual restaurant, set to open on nearby Third Street in January.
Larchmont Village, A Great Place to Dine Al Fresco
As the temporary authorizations near expiration and the new, permanent program begins implementation, the spotlight shifts to the potential impacts to existing outdoor dining at the curb, on the sidewalk and in private off-street parking lots. My research has shown that the program was successful not only in keeping businesses open but also in generating greater revenue, revealing a remarkable $4 million surge in gross sales in Larchmont Village, a 30% increase in 2022 compared to 2019.
As Larchmont braces for the next chapter of outdoor dining and transitions into a permanent solution, the question will be how will the new application fees justify continuing curbside dining and whether the parking landscape will be reshaped again. The impending expiration of Al Fresco authorizations raises concerns among local businesses. As the city navigates the rollout of the permanent program, the resilience and success of L.A. Al Fresco in Larchmont Village remains a compelling case study for the broader conversation on outdoor dining and the future of parking in Los Angeles.