The city of Los Angeles planning commission voted unanimously this past week in favor of the Al Fresco ordinance unveiled by Mayor Karen Bass in April.

Under the mayor’s new plan, the ordinance allows for greater flexibility, less red tape, and the slashing of costly fees for restaurants that currently have or are looking to add outdoor dining areas on their private property.

The previous ordinance, scheduled to expire on May 11, offered a lifeline to restaurant owners during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when indoor dining wasn’t allowed.

Many converted their private parking lots into outdoor dining spaces, which became popular with customers. Many now depend on outdoor dining as part of their current business model, and were concerned that the expiration of the pandemic ordinance would force them to close their outdoor spaces — and potentially put them out of business.

Restaurateurs say the mayor’s new ordinance and the support from the city's planning commission will support jobs and contribute to the city’s local economy, especially for small and independently owned businesses.

Speaking to a group of restaurant owners following the planning commission decision, there was a pervasive sense of relief.

There are definite ways and compromises and good neighbor policies that can be done really well.

— Christy Vega, owner, Casa Vega

Christy Vega, the owner of Sherman Oaks Mexican restaurant Casa Vega, has been one of the strongest supporters of making al fresco dining a permanent fixture of Los Angeles as a member of the California Restaurant Association.

Vega also felt there was definite motivation to help the restaurant industry.

“I think that the planning commission saw that this is a really good thing for Los Angeles and that there are definite ways and compromises and good neighbor policies that can be done really well," she said.

Based on feedback from restaurant owners, the planning commission had some recommended changes to the mayor’s ordinance, including:

  • Expanding the original curfew for outdoor spaces to 11 p.m. (originally 10:30 p.m.)
  • Allowing for ambient music to be played at an acceptable volume so as not to disturb neighboring residents. 
  • Specific building requirements, such as roofing that allows for airflow. 

“I think it's really great what happened,” said Suzanne Tracht, owner of Jar, located in Beverly Grove. “We can now emerge and think widely about how we can do this better. It’s a win-win for everybody.” Tracht’s restaurant depends on a city-issued rail gate and the sidewalk for her restaurant’s outdoor space, which she and staff set up each night.

A color image of an outdoor dining setup inside a parking lot. The center focus shows a tall tree wrapped in a string of yellow outdoor lights, with the tops of its branches reaching the top of the image. Below is what looks to be a white outdoor bar area with small groups of people on each side. In front of the bar are metal heat lamps and white tables with centerpieces containing candles and flowers.

Outdoor dining at Casa Vega

Brian Hand, the owner of Hand-Brewed Beer, a brewery and taproom located in Chatsworth, was also pleased with the committee’s decision.

“I'm elated because we've spent probably at least $5,000-$6,000 on building out the patio,” he says, referring to his brewery's 900 square feet of outdoor dining area.

“I think it's smart for L.A. Why put more restrictions on businesses such as mine? We're not out of the troubles that we had in the pandemic. We're just still here,” Hand added.

His comments are a reminder that it’s been a bumpy road for restaurant owners, many of whom are still struggling post-pandemic.

The next stop for the ordinance is the Los Angeles city council, where it will go to the building and planning committee for approval.

There is also the issue of expanded sidewalk and parklet dining, which is also part of the mayor’s new plan; however, that will require additional approval from the city’s transportation department as well as from the city council.

Restaurant owners can expect to hear about progress on the proposal later this summer.

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Gab Chabrán reports and edits stories about food and its place in LA's diverse cultures and communities. Curious about a specific regional cuisine or have a recommendation for a hole-in-the-wall you love? Are you looking for the best place to take your kid for lunch? We’d love to hear from you. Drop us a line.

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