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The new proposed L.A. City ordinance upending restaurants

The next time you head to your favorite café, outdoor seating may no longer be an option.

Covid upended all our lives but the one silver lining was the al-fresco program.

USC School of Architecture professor, Valery Augustine explains.

AUGUSTINE: There was a specific ordinance enacted that allowed restaurants to do dining outdoors.

But now with Covid winding down, city officials are trying to figure out how to keep this pandemic program going.

Recently, the LA City Council approved to keep the program but are proposing expensive and time-consuming requirements to maintain it. Many businesses may not be able to meet these demands. This has left some restaurant go-ers like Professor Augustine disappointed.

AUGUSTINE: But I think they should just open it up and allow restaurants to do that. If anything, we’ve also shown that it doesn’t negatively impact the public life or the public right of way to have cafes.

And that’s what businesses would like to do but the new proposed ordinance would require restaurants that want to serve outdoors to re-apply again for things like permits and inspections.

The cost? Tens of thousands of dollars. For small restaurants that are already struggling to pay the bills, that cost could be a death sentence.

L.A. City Planning chief external affairs officer Yeghig Keshishian says with the emergency order being lifted, the City must comply with current laws and preserve the pre-pandemic al fresco.

But Augustine says L.A. is behind the times.

AUGUSTINE: I would say, especially in comparison to other major cities around the world, the sidewalk cafes are standard almost. And if anything, it’s surprising that we don’t have as much of it here in L.A., especially considering our weather. And so when you go to other cities, places where the weather is much less hospitable, you have a lot of outdoor dining. And so I think in a city like L.A., it’s way overdue that we have that we can have more outdoor seating.

Either way, businesses might be left with the decision of having to pay the hefty fees or to shut down their outdoor seating. The planning department has 3 months to streamline the regulations and report back to the City Council, hopefully figuring out a way for businesses to keep their outdoor seating open.

For Annenberg Media, I’m Skye Lee.