Street closures and outdoor expansions for Long Beach businesses are here to stay — at least through the end of the year.
The City Council voted unanimously at its Tuesday, Sept. 15, meeting to request the City Manager Tom Modica to extend parklet and parking lot permits for those businesses through the end of the year. The panel also asked the City Manager to look into making some of them permanent, including a permanent closure of Pine Avenue from Broadway to Fifth Street.
The Long Beach City Council first approved the “open streets” program in June as a way to help restaurants and other businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic by allowing patrons to eat or shop outdoors.
More than 200 parklet or parking lot permits have since been approved across the city through the program. And, according to business owners, the initiative is working as intended.
Varouj Shekerdemian, co-owner of R Bar in downtown Long Beach, has turned five former parking spaces into the restaurant’s outdoor patio — complete with 15 tables and TVs — which has become R Bar’s salvation during the pandemic.
“It’s just been such a big difference for us financially,” he said recently. “We’re surviving because of this; it’s bringing that additional income since we can’t do inside dining. And the cool thing is the guests love it.”
But the program has faced some criticism.
“We are losing all the parking spaces that were once along the curb,” resident Ann Cantrell said during the Tuesday meeting. “We are losing, in some cases, a lane of traffic in Belmont Shore. These parklets extending out into the street are make driving very hazardous. You’re driving on a cross-street, and you cannot see the oncoming traffic because the restaurants are extending out into the streets.
“I am in favor of helping the restaurants and the businesses,” Cantrell said, “but I don’t think this is the way to do it.”
To that, Councilmember Suzie Price, whose Third District includes Belmont Shore, said the city would study potential neighborhood impacts before making any of the current parklets or business expansions permanent.
“For those that might be transitioned to more permanent sites,” she said, “those are ones where we’ll take a very hard look at parking and other types of impacts to make sure we mitigate those.”
But Price and her colleagues all said the idea of making some of the expansions permanent — for the good of the businesses as well as local residents — is worth exploring.
“I think we’re going to a place where we’ve got sort of hunkered down for the next, potentially, year as we don’t know what’s going to happen with the pandemic,” Councilmember Rex Richardson said. “So these are innovative ways to provide assets and additional tools in the toolbox for restaurants and businesses to be able to adjust through this transition and be able to survive.”