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Manhattan Beach Keeps Outdoor Restaurant Space Open by Calling it ‘Public Seating’

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City officials have reclassified all outdoor dining areas as essentially park space, freeing them up for use by customers taking food away from restaurants

Outdoor dining ban
Diners in Manhattan Beach
Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

The South Bay city of Manhattan Beach has decided to offer a ‘creative’ solution to the current ban of on-site dining at restaurants across Southern California. While the city does not have its own public health department to make localized decisions about on-site dining (which, regardless, would be superseded by today’s new regional ban from state officials), officials there do have jurisdiction over things like public right of way and park space. And so, Manhattan Beach has designated all outdoor dining areas as “public seating,” making them open and available to all — and that includes people who want to eat.

Per the new public directive, sent out last week by city manager Bruce Moe:

The City has repurposed outdoor dining areas as public seating areas to encourage patrons to support the local business community while providing a socially distant and safe place to relax and enjoy the holiday shopping experience. The public can now use spaces previously allocated for outdoor dining and retail areas during the pandemic.

Because of the new on-site dining restrictions, restaurants are required (for at least the next three weeks, if not longer) to offer takeout and delivery only, meaning there will be no staff or reservation system to oversee table seating in public right of ways, but the intention here is to still allow diners to eat their food, unmasked in public, after buying from a nearby business. Public health officials have repeatedly said that being unmasked in public is considered a high risk activity for community spread of the coronavirus; just yesterday, new daily countywide COVID-19 case totals grew to over 10,500.

The announcement, made late last week, also notes that these spaces are to be closed for use from 10 p.m. to 7:30 a.m. daily, and that “users of the areas should sanitize tables after each use.” And despite a Los Angeles County Department of Public Health ban which specifies that “chairs and tables should be removed from outdoor spaces or clearly marked as restricted,” mayor Suzanne Hadley told The Daily Breeze that the city is “confident our new outdoor seating areas comply with current LA County guidelines.”

Such a setup has had limited success in other areas, with Heroic Italian attempting a similar setup in Santa Monica, only to be given a citation. Regardless, the Breeze report says that other cities, including Redondo Beach, are considering taking a similar stab at a workaround.