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LA Could Make Outdoor Dining a Permanent Fixture of the Restaurant Landscape

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Councilmember David Ryu has filed a motion to make it easier for restaurants to create new outdoor dining spaces

Couple sits outside at a table in LA’s Arts District with greenery covering brick walls.
Couple sits outside at a table in LA’s Arts District
Wonho Frank Lee
Matthew Kang is the Lead Editor of Eater LA. He has covered dining, restaurants, food culture, and nightlife in Los Angeles since 2008. He's the host of K-Town, a YouTube series covering Korean food in America, and has been featured in Netflix's Street Food show.

A few days ago, the city of LA extended the popular LA Al Fresco program until the end of 2020, giving restaurants an opportunity to continue with temporary outdoor dining spaces in unconventional setups, such as parking lots, sidewalks, and alleyways. Outdoor dining has shown to be an acceptable compromise in an effort to allow restaurants to have sit-down diners but also combat the spread of COVID-19. In late May, Mayor Eric Garcetti commenced the outdoor dining program ahead of a larger relaxing of the stay-at-home order that began in mid-March. The city simultaneously allowed for the reopening indoor dining rooms, as COVID-19 cases seemed to be in decline in LA County and across California.

However, in the weeks that followed, coronavirus cases grew, which led Gov. Gavin Newsom to order the re-closure of indoor dining spaces in early July. LA’s indoor dining has been suspended ever since, though outdoor dining has now become a prominent part of the restaurant experience in Los Angeles in the past two months. Now councilmember David Ryu wants to make the system that allowed restaurants in LA to setup outdoor dining areas permanent.

“LA Al Fresco has been a lifeline to our local restaurants. It’s a resource that should be permanent in the City of Los Angeles. We need more programs that cut through red tape to support local businesses and give communities a new sense of vibrancy. I commend the Mayor for creating LA Al Fresco, and I think it should be here to stay,” Ryu said in a press release. At the moment, 1,586 restaurants are participating in the expanded outdoor dining program, with the city saying it would dedicate 55% of its resources to BIPOC businesses or restaurants in areas that have experienced a disproportionate job loss due to the pandemic.

Ryu’s motion says Al Fresco has “has provided additional dining space for smaller, family owned restaurants, while taking advantage of Southern California’s climate and preserving the unique character of neighborhoods with smaller shops and restaurants.” The spaces would have to adhere to ADA guidelines and allow for public right-of-way. With virtually no end in sight for the pandemic, LA could be in a unique position to promote a year-round outdoor dining setup (except for a few weeks of cold, rainy weather in the winter), allowing the chance for restaurants to continue sit-down service. However, one wonders when some neighborhoods might see the newer outdoor spaces as an infringement and potential nuisance.