HomeCity NewsOutdoor Dining Is the Talk of the Town, With Reservations

Outdoor Dining Is the Talk of the Town, With Reservations

First published in the Oct. 13 print issue of the Outlook Valley Sun.

As cities transition to pre-COVID pandemic normalcy, La Cañada Flintridge hopes to retain a custom that helped businesses stay afloat during difficult times: outdoor dining.
LCF staff presented an ordinance to the City Council on Oct. 3 that would add a chapter to its zoning code permitting and regulating outdoor dining. Though the panel did not vote on the matter, council members were open to the idea and advised city staff to modify the ordinance and bring it back to them at a later date.
“I’m excited about the outdoor dining,” said Councilwoman Terry Walker. “I think it was one positive thing that came out of COVID. I think people really enjoyed it, and I love to walk up to the boulevard and sit outside.”
Like many other municipalities, LCF eased restrictions on outdoor dining when indoor dining was not permitted due to high COVID-19 transmission and local restaurants took advantage of the opportunity by setting up tents, tables and chairs outside of their establishments.
The proposed ordinance would have permitted the practice and included standards recommended by staff and the Planning Commission, such as the dining location, requiring the business owner to present a plan that shows a seating plan and prohibiting the expanded service within 15 feet of homes to mitigate noise.
The ordinance also addresses safety and would require the property owner to indemnify and provide insurance in favor of the city, a component that was recommended by the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority.
At the suggestion of the Storefront Safety Council, composed of volunteers that aim to raise awareness regarding vehicle-into-building crashes, LCF added that crash-tested barriers be placed between outdoor dining areas and public sidewalks as well as parking and vehicular circulation areas. La Cañada Flintridge has had a history of vehicles colliding into structures, most recently last November when two different vehicles crashed into Hill Street Café and Veruca Salt on the intersection of Angeles Crest Highway and Foothill Boulevard. Both accidents occurred on the same day.
Council members worried, however, that forcing the implementation of crash-tested barriers could affect the aesthetic of Foothill Boulevard, and Walker asked that LCF staff find a way to address the ambiance in the ordinance.
“I don’t want a town with K-rails along our main boulevard,” said Walker, who suggested that the ordinance allow landscaping and ambient lighting to “soften the look.”
“The things that make it so charming down in Montrose is the way that they are decorated versus the white tent in front of [Round Table Pizza], which doesn’t really do much for our boulevard.”
Mayor Keith Eich agreed and asked that the city’s beautification subcommittee be involved in the discussion when it comes to barriers along LCF’s main corridor. He also requested that staff modify the portion of the ordinance that requires a threat, risk and vulnerability or traffic engineering study for restaurants offering outdoor dining in areas that exceed a 30 mph speed limit.
Eich said that because there aren’t many restaurants within a 35 mph zone, they should not be required to go through such an assessment.
Another restriction the council questioned was that of serving alcohol within any portion of an outdoor dining area located within a public right of way, stating that Montrose doesn’t impose such a limitation to its restaurants that offered outdoor dining.
“The restrictions we’re proposing are, I think, way too onerous for what we’re trying to accomplish,” said Councilman Rick Gunter.
Mike Davitt agreed with his colleague and advised staff to simplify the ordinance to make it less difficult for business owners.
“I do think we want to make this as feasible on the business community as possible, so if we’re going to do it, I don’t think we want to put up barriers that are burdensome for them,” Councilmember Davitt said. “I think we’re close. I’d like to clean this up a little bit though and focus on those things like insurance, the barriers, the mayor brought up the speed limit and then serving alcohol in the right-of-way. I think if you can work on those to make it more business friendly, I’d be in a more comfortable spot.”

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