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LA City Council unanimously votes to adopt permanent Al Fresco dining program

The Los Angles City Council on Friday adopted an Al Fresco ordinance, establishing a permanent program to allow outdoor dining on private property, with the intent of supporting local restaurants.

Council members voted 14-0 in favor of an ordinance that would streamline outdoor zoning code regulations to create a permanent Al Fresco program. The ordinance will regulate eligibility, development, and operational standards for the operation of an outdoor dining area.

Councilman Curren Price was absent during the vote.

Mayor Karen Bass issued a statement Friday afternoon, congratulating the council for adopting a "pathway for restaurants to continue to provide outdoor dining on private property" as they were during the pandemic.

"Today's approval of the Al Fresco Dining Ordinance continues our work to ensure that Los Angeles is not just open for business but that we are advocating for businesses," Bass said in a statement. "The permanent Al Fresco Dining Ordinance carries forward the spirit of the widely successful pandemic-era temporary program and makes sure the process for permanent Al Fresco is simple and easy to navigate for our restaurants."

She added, "Together, we are finding better ways to support small businesses, create jobs and add vibrancy to our neighborhoods."

The ordinance will require Bass' approval before it can be enacted.

According to a report from the Department of City Planning, the Al Fresco Program has three key standards: city identification/contact information/database; accessible parking; and ordinance standards, background music and the coastal zone.

The first standard outlines enforcement and communication.

A city-issued identification shall be posted in the outdoor dining area and made clearly visible to the public, indicating that the area is subject to the standards of the Al Fresco Ordinance.

Additionally, for any complaints or concerns regarding the operation of an Al Fresco operation, the official number to contact will be 311. The Department of Building and Safety will also be tasked with creating a database of complaints based on addresses of Al Fresco establishment.

Noise complaints will be deferred to the L.A. Police Department, and the database is intended to facilitate streamlined communication and enforcement among relative departments that oversee Al Fresco operations.

According to the report, restaurants initially had discretion as ti whether to replace any parking spots that may have been removed by an outdoor dining area. But the Department on Disability expressed concerns about this policy, which would have negatively impacted people with disabilities.

To address this concern, an amendment was introduced to ensure that at least one parking space must be available. But, council members Tim McOsker, Traci Park and Monica Rodriguez also co-introduced exemptions for certain restaurants from the parking requirement.

Restaurants containing 3,000 square feet of indoor floor area or less; or if outdoor dining area is 1,000 square feet or less will be exempted from the city's provision; or if a restaurant falls under state or federal laws, superseding the city's provision, they will be exempted from the parking regulation too.

According to an email from the City Planning Department, the ordinance will take effect in the coming year, and all existing Al Fresco operators will be notified with instructions to apply for the permanent program when the online application is available.

The department also noted that outdoor dining in the public right-of- way, such as on the sidewalks, are subject to separate regulations overseen by the Department of Transportation and the Bureau of Engineering. 

"Our experience during the pandemic proved that expanded outdoor dining is a boon for business and also brings greater opportunity to enjoy all that is best about Los Angeles," City Council President Paul Krekorian said in a statement.

Some restaurants located in the coastal zones of the city will not be included in this program because they fall under the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission — meaning these entrepreneurs have different regulations to abide by.

According to the City Planning report, the state recently approved AB 1217, which ultimately may extend outdoor dining until July 1, 2026, for restaurant owners in the coastal zones who obtained an emergency waiver during the pandemic.

Earlier this year, Park introduced a motion calling for creation of an Al Fresco program in the coastal zones. According to City Planning, the report is nearing completion and should provide a range of solutions to address the California Coastal Commission's concerns over parking spaces and coastal development permits.

"Our work today though doesn't end with this vote," Park said last week when the council first considered the ordinance and program. "It's really important that we ensure that the more than 150 restaurants in the coastal zone are not left behind by the policies."

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