Opinion: Al Fresco dining, homelessness and Los Angeles’ priorities
Just about everything in Los Angeles is better outdoors (except in August), and eating is no exception. So, news this week of the possible end of the city program allowing restaurants to easily obtain permits for outdoor dining during the pandemic, called L.A. Al Fresco, sparked a backlash by letter writers. Understandably, readers want dining on public sidewalks and other shared outdoor spaces to continue.
It’s hard not to compare this to homelessness — more specifically, the use by unhoused people of public sidewalks (not unlike what restaurants had to do) amid the crisis of unaffordable housing. During the pandemic, restaurants facing closure got the free use of public space to survive, which was the right thing to do.
I wonder what unhoused Angelenos, who faced sweeps and an anti-camping ordinance during the pandemic, think about that.
To the editor: The outdoor spaces that saved many restaurants during the pandemic had many positive side effects besides keeping restaurants afloat. They created a sense of community, made patrons feel safe and brought joy when we all needed that. The city of Los Angeles was smart to provide a streamlined approval process to get these up and running.
The city should follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” rule and let these spaces remain.
Restaurant owners have spent thousands of dollars creating these convivial spaces and keeping their staff employed. Taking these spaces away will cause wait staff to lose their jobs and drain finances from businesses that were hit so hard during the pandemic.
This is a successful business model that should be expanded, not curtailed and made more onerous.
Bonnie Voland, Los Angeles
To the editor: My heart sank when I read that Al Fresco restaurant dining may be curtailed in Los Angeles.
In this climate, eating outdoors enhances the dining experience, and its adoption was one of the few good things to come out of the pandemic.
I hope the city will see a way to grandfathering in those restaurants already with outdoor dining and streamline the permit process for the future.
Rose Leibowitz, Studio City
To the editor: I don’t recall any other City Hall topic that made me want to scream as much as this.
Some in City Hall have been crooks who care only about themselves? Not news. A mayoral candidate spends more than $100 million to get elected rather than actually doing something tangible? Of course.
Now, the city has a chance to actually help businesses and give Angelenos something they have long sought, and instead it is poised to do the opposite.
The Al Fresco program has been in place for years now with no tangible downside and tons of benefits. All the data are there showing the benefits, and all the city has to do is what it does best: nothing.
Please, Mayor Karen Bass: Lead.
Jeff Heister, Chatsworth
To the editor: I hope the city doesn’t enact the ordinance that would jeopardize Al Fresco dining in Los Angeles.
For the first year of the pandemic, our family would only patronize restaurants with takeout dining. Slowly, we discovered places that had outdoor dining.
Now, our family and friends only go to restaurants that have outdoor tables, whether they are curbside, on patios or in parking lots.
While we found restaurants that serve various cuisines with outdoor seating throughout the greater Los Angeles area, we only found one Chinese restaurant in Beverly Hills that had outdoor seating.
Allowing outdoor seating for restaurants not only helps the restaurant owners, it also helps the residents by giving them a viable and safe place to socialize and enjoy each other’s company. After all, the pandemic is not really over.
Ann Lau, Torrance
To the editor: Latino-owned Los Angeles restaurants have struggled to keep their doors open as they operated through the COVID-19 shutdowns, vaccine mandates, labor shortage and supply chain issues. The outdoor dining program was put in place to mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the city’s restaurants.
The city is now considering an expensive policy that will only hurt restaurants that are just starting to crawl out of the disastrous last three years. This fee proposal is also being introduced during a time when our economy is sluggish at best. Los Angeles restaurants, a lot of which have already spent thousands on their outdoor spaces, will be required to pay excessive permit fees just to keep outdoor dining.
Although this will impact the entire restaurant community, the worst-off victims will be the smallest, hardworking, mom-and-pop businesses that help keep Los Angeles neighborhoods authentic and thriving.
It seems our city is taking a step backward in debating whether to charge restaurants that wish to provide outdoor dining. Here’s an opportunity for our elected officials to make a smart decision that would not only benefit restaurant owners, but also the entire city.
We most certainly want to continue attracting businesses to our city — which, by the way, has done an incredible job thus far during the pandemic, thanks to a handful of forward-thinkers.
Lilly Rocha, Los Angeles
The writer is chief executive of the Latino Restaurant Assn.