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Newport Beach

Volume 6, Issue 47  | June 11, 2021


Sidewalk dining could last through summer – but is it time to move the party inside?

By AMY SENK

Making COVID-era sidewalk or outdoor dining a permanent thing in Newport Beach may seem like a great idea, and the City Council on Tuesday will decide whether to extend those permits through the summer and then, on a case-by-case basis, maybe beyond. Who doesn’t enjoy the European vibe of sipping a glass of wine or cup of coffee at a sidewalk café on a nice summer evening?

I’ll tell you – some residents who live near restaurants, like a friend of mine who lives on the Peninsula and says her life has been turned upside down by the outdoor crowds. And while she initially supported the emergency COVID measures that allowed the outdoor dining and parking lot patios – anything to help other business owners survive – some of them have pushed her too far.

“Although ‘outdoor dining’ was the original intention to keep the restaurants afloat, I don’t think you understand what exactly is going on behind my home,” she wrote in an email to city staff. “There’s more at stake than you realize, and we’ve sacrificed enough. It’s time. It’s over, I need some peace and fresh air back desperately and I’m counting on my elected officials to do the right thing for us after so much suffering…The city is so focused on restaurants that you’ve forgotten about people like me.”

Her letter details her experiences, many of which she had previously told me in private conversations. The couple snorting coke in public by a dumpster, the couple having sex in broad daylight on her private property. The trespassing, the trash, the noise.

In all, about 114 commercial and institutional establishments have the Emergency Temporary Use Permits, which the City Council implemented about a year ago through a Back to Business Program. The permits allowed using public right-of-ways, public parking or park areas, or private property for outdoor dining. Typically, when restaurants or businesses want to increase capacity, they must add parking spaces.

Sidewalk dining restaurant

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Photos by Amy Senk

A restaurant on the Peninsula offering outdoor dining

I’m sure my friend is not the only one who has issues with the outdoor dining. Many Corona del Mar residents also live near restaurants and frequently have complained (pre-COVID) about the noise from morning truck deliveries, grease trap cleanings and drunk patrons leaving after a long, late dinner.

The City Council’s decision on Tuesday could extend all those permits through September 6, and after that, restaurants could apply individually to extend them for a limited time.

“Many…restaurants with outdoor dining, have expressed an interest in making their improvements permanent,” a staff report said. “The proposed resolution is not intended to legalize existing outdoor dining improvements, but rather to be ‘a bridge’ to create a path to establish permanent outdoor dining, where appropriate and subject to a public hearing.”

The staff report also talked about parking, and how the “primary challenge to establish more permanent outdoor dining” are Zoning Code requirements. The city, the report said, has begun a study and code amendment related to parking.

“(T)he project will examine incentives and parking reductions for rideshare and bicycle facilities, curbside management strategies, and the potential for parking management districts in the City’s primary activity nodes,” the report states. “It is expected that the project will likely result in modified or reduced parking requirements for many restaurants, which, in turn, could facilitate the establishment of permanent outdoor dining facilities.”

The updates will be broken into two parts, with the parking requirement and rideshare/bike facility requirements being presented by the end of the year, and a curbside management and parking management district being complete by mid-2022.

An overhaul of the city’s parking requirements – where have I heard that idea before? Why, at Corona del Mar Business Improvement District meetings, which I attended for more than a decade. That group has sponsored at least two parking studies, presented findings to the City Council, and repeatedly made suggestions that would ease parking requirements that over the years have scared a lot of new businesses away from opening in the village.

How ironic, then, that the CdM BID – along with the Restaurant Association BID – will be dissolved in the very same meeting where the parking changes will finally be discussed with a possible plan of action.

One CdM BID board member said he had been discouraged after working “countless man hours” to convince the city to adjust parking requirements – to no avail.

“It is unfortunate that it took a pandemic and emergency measures to bear out that we do not have a lack of parking (in CdM),” he said. “I guess hindsight is always 20/20.”

• • •

Finally – there was a lot of chatter on Twitter as LBGT Pride Month arrived, and several neighboring cities raised rainbow pride flags at their city halls. Laguna Beach, Costa Mesa, Huntington Beach and Irvine are a few towns that have the flags. I asked the Newport Beach spokesman, John Pope, if our city had any such plans. The answer was no.

Sidewalk dining flags

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Flags flying at City Hall

“The City’s longstanding practice is to fly three government flags only – the United States, the State of California and City of Newport Beach,” he said. 

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Amy Senk has lived in Corona del Mar for 20+ years and was publisher of Corona del Mar Today, an online newspaper that ran daily for seven years. Senk, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, is involved in the Corona del Mar Residents Association. She and her husband have two children attending college at the University of Missouri and Duke University. She is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.

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