“It feels like we are somewhere in Europe.” Christine and Carl Bloom said last week as they were finishing up their al fresco Italian lunch at Domenico’s Pizza on Second Street in Belmont Shore.
Like so many others, their travel plans were canceled in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. So going out close to home in one of the Long Beach’s new parklets was the next best thing.
The parklets are part of the Open Streets Initiative to temporarily transform public areas into safe spaces. Jennifer Carey, Public Works spokesperson, said the city has installed about 90 parklets citywide since the coronavirus shutdown in March.
Considering how busy most are, customers are pleased with them. But there are concerns about their use — impacts on safety, parking and noise, as well as what happens to these temporary areas once indoor dining is allowed again.
Fourth District Councilman Daryl Supernaw said, “Street parklets have been a challenge in Council District Four because most of our restaurants are on major corridors where the speed limits exceed the parklet threshold. That has forced restaurants to use side streets or parking lots to meet the city’s parklet requirements.”
With the number of parklets approaching 100, some have replaced bus stops, parking lots, metered and residential parking. Each placement and design is unique.
“I have mixed feelings," said Gloria Bradley, president of the Country Club Manor homeowners association. "This is a creative way for restaurants to stay in business, and for residents to get out and be safe. But as a Driver Education teacher for over 15 years, I do have major concerns. The safety aspect — drivers that are distracted or under the influence could cause issues. I believe the barriers need to be brighter on the outside; maybe even painted with neon glow paint. “
Some retail and service business owners say eating establishments may have been given an unfair advantage with the initiative.
“The provisions made for outdoor dining failed to consider the impact to neighboring businesses," said Gary Lee Wolf, who owns a successful hair salon in Bixby Knolls. "With mid-day street sweeping, customers' (parking) options were already limited. And now the few spots are taken up by diners or their curbside seating. The only notice I received was three days before the unsafe barricades were installed.
“The restaurants were given the chance to stay open with takeout food — still given the chance to make money," he added. "What do the other businesses get to do? Ninety percent of my clients are women who get color done. Now the city Health Department says outdoor services are prohibited for any type of chemical service.”
Outside alcohol consumption has become a concern for some, with complaints that patrons are noisy and lack diligence in wearing masks.
John Carr of the California Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) provided some clarification to the rules.
“Since the beginning of the pandemic, food has been deemed an essential service," Carr said. "In order for businesses that serve alcohol to keep operating in some capacity, the health orders say that alcohol cannot be served on the premises, or to go, unless it is sold with a bona fide meal.
“During the pandemic, ABC has allowed bars, including some that do not typically serve meals, to either prepare meals on site or enter into a relationship/contract with a meal vendor (such as a food truck or caterer) to provide bona fide meals to patrons, he added. "This has been done to allow these businesses to stay open in some capacity and keep people working. The industry asked ABC for guidance about what is considered a meal.”
Dave and Debra Baughman, who live in Belmont Shore, said they felt the additional outdoor dining space was so popular that “they should leave them there permanently.” The couple did express concerns that not all the restaurants were following the social distancing standards, and said they had taken photos they shared with their City Council office.
Other residents also were unclear about how long the parklets would remain. The city’s Open Streets website states, ”Temporary parklets and sidewalk dining will remain in place through Oct. 31, 2020, or as long as physically-distanced dining is required.
"The city will look to streamline the permanent parklet permit so that temporary outdoor dining areas may transition to permanent status upon termination of the program.”
Wrigley resident Joey King shared his feelings: “I love the new parklets in Long Beach. I’ve had the ‘sit back and smell the roses’ attitude during COVID-19. Eating outside just extends that. Now is a time to slow down and figure out what is important — and the parklets are helping that.”