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A Proposed City Ordinance Could Decimate Outdoor Dining in LA

The city is looking to bring back some of the bureaucracy that existed before the pandemic.

Outdoor dining in LA Jason Armond/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

It’s been almost three years since the start of the pandemic in the United States, yet the country’s reckoning with outdoor dining continues apace.

This time, the saga is playing out in Los Angeles, where the city has proposed an outdoor-dining ordinance that has restaurant owners outraged, according to the Los Angeles Times. Up until now, the Al Fresco program had allowed restaurants to expand their operations, but the new law might undo some of that work, costing businesses thousands of dollars as they navigate city bureaucracy.

“The pandemic alfresco permit was the most thoughtful working program this city has ever offered to restaurants, and I can’t wrap my mind around it,” Tyler Wells, the chef-owner of All Time in Los Feliz, told the newspaper. “It feels very mean-spirited to take away things that have been a godsend.”

Earlier on in the pandemic, the Al Fresco program let restaurants open outdoor-dining areas quickly. More than 2,500 businesses were able to skip the lengthy and expensive process of applications, approvals and fees. But now the city is hoping to return to some of those earlier requirements, and restaurants that have already set up outdoor dining will need to reapply to keep it.

It’s not wholly dissimilar from what’s happening in New York, where the Open Restaurants program allowed eateries to establish outdoor-dining setups during the pandemic. The city is trying to make that a permanent program, although some find the streeteries to be a nuisance. Various legal challenges have held up the permanent program, and the exact shape it’ll take still seems to be in flux.

Currently, the LA ordinance is only a proposal, and a public hearing is being held on Wednesday so that people can voice their concerns. If it is to pass as currently written and restaurants choose not to or cannot comply, some will lose a great deal of the business that has kept them afloat over the past three years.

In just one example of the potential fallout, Holly Fox, the co-owner of Last Word Hospitality, which includes East Hollywood’s Found Oyster, said she would have to lay off 15 to 20 percent of her staff if she can’t keep the parklet in front of the restaurant.

“We are out of support, and it feels like such a backward step,” Fox told the LA Times. “We should be doing all that we can to keep this vibrancy alive because so much good came out of the creative push that was the horror of the pandemic. Making it harder and harder for restaurants just doesn’t make sense. Who benefits?”

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