MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — In light of Los Angeles County’s recent ban on outdoor dining, Manhattan Beach is performing what one restaurateur called an “end-around” by re-purposing existing outdoor dining spaces for use as public seating areas.
Outdoor dining areas previously purpose-built for use as restaurant space in downtown Manhattan Beach will be re-designated as “outdoor seating.” Manhattan Beach will also introduce additional outdoor seating areas.
The move is not seen as a saving grace by restaurant owners, but a small lifeline that can help restaurant owners get by.
“I think what they’re doing is all they can do,” said Allen Sanford, an owner of the Rockefeller restaurants. “It’s not enough, and it’s not going to work, (but) I think it’s the right thing to do and it shows support.”
Manhattan Beach announced the move on Thursday afternoon, two days after the Manhattan Beach City Council delegated a subcommittee to discuss aiding businesses in the wake of the county’s outdoor dining ban. On Wednesday, that subcommittee directed city staff to move forward with the policy change.
The county’s ban, which took effect on Nov. 25, was instituted amid spiking COVID-19 cases throughout Los Angeles County.
“Our business community is struggling to survive the County’s latest restrictions and the City has a win-win solution to help, while safeguarding public health,” Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley said in a statement alongside the city’s Thursday announcement.
In an interview on Friday, Hadley said that the city is doing whatever it can to help the restaurants and retail shops that make up the fabric of the Manhattan Beach community.
“The Manhattan Beach community has experienced an outpouring of support four our local businesses,” she said.
When asked if the policy was a way to get around the new county order, Hadley said that it’s “one more tool in the toolkit of the City of Manhattan Beach, to help our retailers and restaurants downtown while we wait for the numbers of COVID cases to ease, county rules to change, or the vaccine to be widely distributed.”
Previously, each of those outdoor spaces was set up for use by specific restaurants. Sanford, for instance, was one of a handful of restaurateurs who worked with Manhattan Beach to build outdoor dining spaces on street parking spots outside of his restaurant. A few miles south of Manhattan, Sanford built similar outdoor dining-style platforms on parking spaces in Redondo Beach’s Riviera Village.
Since the parklettes are already on street parking spaces, they’re public property, Sanford said. “It’s basically an end-around from the health department it’s redefined as a public space.”
But, in order to keep that definition as a public space, the seating areas around Manhattan Beach restaurants must remain publicly available — restaurants may not reserve seating, facial coverings and social distancing must be maintained, there may be no alcohol at those seats, and users must throw away their trash in receptacles.
For Sanford, it’s not a perfect solution — many restaurants like his make good money from beer and wine sales, and they can’t prevent a member of the public from using a table to hang out and read a book.
But Michael Zislis, CEO of the Manhattan Beach-based Zislis Group, which holds a portfolio of hotels and restaurants in California coastal cities, was celebrating on Friday afternoon.
Downtown Manhattan Beach, he said, had a vibrancy that had been missing since the closure took effect.
“It’s not crazy, but it’s enough to keep everyone going for another day,” Zislis said. “Is it a win that we’re going to make any money? No, it’s not that kind of a win. But it’s a win that I put 25 percent of my staff back to work today. That’s a win, and that’s because the City Council of Manhattan Beach is pro-business, and they think fast on their feet.”