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Council favors outdoor dining on Balboa Island, few months remaining on Peninsula due to state jurisdiction

By SARA HALL

City Council held a study session this week to discuss outdoor dining on public right-of-way areas on Balboa Island and around Newport Pier on the Balboa Peninsula.

Council unanimously agreed in two bifurcated discussions on Tuesday (Feb. 8) to work with a state agency on allowing outdoor dining in public parking spaces on the peninsula until about mid-May this year; and directed staff to look into making the current city policy work or updating it to allow outdoor dining on sidewalks on Marine Avenue on Balboa Island, with consideration for the Americans with Disabilities Act, pedestrian access issues, safety and working with the local community.

Just after the COVID-19 pandemic started, council granted emergency temporary use permits to allow outdoor dining, explained Community Development Director Seimone Jurjis.

The permits waived city code and allowed outdoor dining in private and public parking lots and public rights-of-way areas. ETUPs for the approximately 120 establishments expired on December 31 and city code is now applicable.

“It was highly successful,” Jurjis said.

For private property, the city is granting limited term permits, which allow outdoor dining for up to 12 months, Jurjis said. Staff has issued about 30 LTPs to local restaurants.

But city policy restrictions apply when it comes to public property.

Council favors outdoor Balboa Island

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Courtesy of City of Newport Beach

Outdoor dining along Marine Avenue on Balboa Island

On Marine Avenue on Balboa Island, the outdoor dining is on the sidewalk, which can get a little tight, noted Public Works Director Dave Webb.

“Marine Avenue…is a little more challenging,” he said. “You’ve got a lot more street furniture, trees, lights, trash cans, food racks and things like that.”

The challenge is the city policy restrictions on public right-of-way clearance, he said. City policy requires an eight-foot clearance for busy areas like Marine Avenue.

“That’s just to deal with the masses of crowds,” and ADA access, Webb explained.

The sidewalk is typically 10 feet wide, he added. Some table and chair options on the sidewalk aren’t “too obtrusive,” but they wouldn’t meet the guidelines as they are laid out in the city code.

The policy does allow the businesses to utilize street furniture, like a public bench, as long as that clearance requirement is still met.

If alcohol is served, there are fencing/barrier and other state requirements to consider as well, Webb added. Most councilmembers agreed that the state requirement of fencing/barrier for serving alcohol doesn’t seem feasible for the area.

They could explore utilizing parking on Balboa Island for outdoor dining, but parking is very difficult as it is, Webb said.

“Everything is tight on that island,” he said.

Using parking spaces could actually hurt the local businesses since so many customers are out-of-town visitors, noted Councilmember Joy Brenner. There needs to be a balance, she added.

“I would want to hear more from them (BI business owners) about that before we ever thought about removing any parking on the island,” Brenner said.

Some other councilmembers commented and agreed that using the parking doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Staff isn’t suggesting using parking spaces, it’s just an option council can consider, if they choose to, Webb clarified, but parking is already extremely tight and removing any could hurt other merchants.

Webb also noted that there are fees for outdoor dining. If it’s less than 100 square feet, the establishment pays $166 annually for the use of the public right-of-way. If it’s more than that the business pays $313 annually.

Overall, councilmembers were in support of continuing the outdoor dining in this location.

“This has been awesome. It’s re-energized Marine Avenue in a great way,” said Councilmember Will O’Neill. “We should do everything we can to try to keep this going because people loved it and I do too.”

He was “all in” on updating the city policy to take into account Marine Avenue specifically. They should continue to work with the Balboa Island Improvement Association on the project, he added.

“It’s been a big deal and I hear from residents all the time,” about the positive impact it’s had, O’Neill said. “If you’re going to try to find silver linings that came out of 2020, this is one of them.”

Councilmember Diane Dixon also supported allowing outdoor dining on the sidewalk.

“It’s wonderful for our restaurants on Balboa Island. It makes it fun,” Dixon said. “It really is an enjoyable community vibe that’s been created down there.

Brenner noted all the emails they received, people were “thrilled” with the outdoor dining on the island.

Council received more than 60 emails in support of continuing the outdoor dining, many from longtime local residents and business owners on Balboa Island. Several noted that it’s best to keep allowing the outdoor option considering the COVID-19 pandemic.

There wasn’t a single letter opposing outdoor dining on Balboa Island, Dixon added.

“It’s a home run,” agreed Councilmember Brad Avery, who also noted the importance of maintaining the ADA clearance.

It can be particularly challenging for someone in a wheelchair during a busy summer weekend, he said.

The minimum for a wheelchair would be four feet, Webb said, but that wouldn’t be recommended in certain areas because it would really be too tight if two people were next to each other or if there was pedestrian cross-traffic.

“That access is absolutely critical,” Dixon said. “I would want to make sure we allow for that.”

They don’t want to open the city up for potential liability, noted resident Nancy Scarbrough. ADA is a law, not a city building code that can be waived, and a person can sue the city if they feel they don’t have access, she said.

Webb also noted that the minimum clearance guidelines could be different for the off-season. Summer is so congested on Marine Avenue, it could be more restrictive. It also depends on the site and if there is a lot of existing sidewalk furniture. It’s a case-by-case basis, he added.

During the emergency TUP period, the city allowed four- and six-foot clearance areas to help businesses out, Webb said.

Dixon also suggested some minimal design recommendations to ensure the encroachment onto the public right-of-way isn’t extending out too far in certain places, which could make walking by difficult.

“Just so that tables aren’t jutting out,” she said. “We should have some standards.”

She also suggested looking into relocating possible structural impediments, like empty newspaper racks, to free up some sidewalk real estate.

“They’re an eyesore,” she said.

Both Dixon and Webb noted there is some difficulty regarding moving or removing newspaper racks, as they saw when the issue was raised in Corona del Mar a few years ago.

“We want everybody to have access to news and information, but I think we could look at areas where we can straighten up the sidewalks,” Dixon said.

Maintaining the sidewalk with outdoor dining is important, she noted, including ensuring that dirty dishes are removed from tables. It’s included in the permit and they can work on the details of what that entails, Webb said, some restaurants have more issues than others.

Dixon emphasized the importance of keeping the area clean and that it’s the responsibility of the store owner.

Council favors outdoor Helmsman

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Photo by Amy Senk

Outdoor dining at the Helmsman Ale House on the peninsula

On the Balboa Peninsula, a lot of the outdoor dining space using public parking has “shrunk down,” Jurjis said. Currently, only about five establishments using approximately a combined 18 parking spaces are being utilized.

They spoke with California Coastal Commission staff about their stance on outdoor dining when it falls within CCC jurisdiction, as it does in some areas on the peninsula.

“They were mildly ok for a few more months,” during the slow season, Jurjis said.

CCC will allow temporary use of public parking until about mid-May, he said, and then they want all that parking restored for the public.

“This is public access,” he summarized. “Parking is for the beach visitors, it’s not meant for private use.”

Answering a council question about the CCC’s position on continuing the program in the off-season, Jurjis explained that the city would have to submit a Coastal Development Permit application to the CCC. Timing-wise, it takes a year or two to process the application. They would also have to show how the city would mitigate the lost spaces, he added.

It would be difficult to make those findings regarding public access during the peak season, Jurjis noted.

Regarding possible lost revenue, staff reviewed parking revenue for this area of West Oceanfront and the average is about $441 per month, per space over a 12-month period. Last year was a record year for parking revenue, Jurjis noted.

That totals approximately $100,000 that did not go into the general fund due to those 18 parking spaces being utilized, he confirmed.

The $441 average encompasses 12 months of paid parking, including the peak season, O’Neill pointed out. So, if they were to charge based on that figure it would be artificially high, he said.

O’Neill visited the area where most of the outdoor dining on public parking is located on the peninsula and “every seat” was taken, he said.

“The amount of sales tax that this has generated maybe didn’t offset it completely, but sure offset a lot of the parking revenue,” O’Neill said. “People are using it, people love it. It’s unfortunate to lose it, but if the Coastal Commission’s not going to allow us to even issue a permit on it I guess at some point it has to go away.”

Mayor Kevin Muldoon also went by the area recently and the tables were pretty full, but the parking lot was still fairly open.

“So, I think we’re still collecting that revenue,” he said.

Unless it’s a crammed weekend with no parking availability at all, people are still finding a space and the city is still capturing that revenue, he noted.

Some people are still not comfortable inside a restaurant, Muldoon noted, so he supported leaving for the outdoor dining on public parking spaces until mid-May for the sake of wider accessibility to the restaurants.

Muldoon supported working with CCC on continuing to allow the use for the next few months and, by a show of hands, the rest of council unanimously agreed.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Newport.