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Outdoor dining takes on new meaning, as Costa Mesa expands seating to parking lots, sidewalks

Costa Mesa officials approved an ordinance Tuesday making it easier for restaurants to do business outside.
Costa Mesa officials approved an urgency ordinance Tuesday making it easier for restaurants beginning to reopen with distancing restrictions in place to do business outside.
(Ryan Miller / Capture Imaging)

Dining out in Costa Mesa is about to take on a whole new meaning after city officials Tuesday approved measures to make it easier for restaurants — just beginning to reopen with coronavirus distancing restrictions in place — to do business outside.

City Council members unanimously approved an urgency ordinance that allows business owners to seek six-month temporary use permits that would allow for the formation of temporary dining areas on adjacent parking lots, sidewalks, plazas and vacant spaces from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Economic and Development Services Director Barry Curtis estimated with best practices and physical distancing protocols in place, dine-in restaurants could see their pre-pandemic capacities reduced by 50% to 70%. Outdoor dining would help recoup some of that loss.

Expansion onto private property like nearby vacant commercial space, which would not put seating in required setbacks or landscaping areas, would be approved by right. Valet parking, even that mandated as a condition for use, would be waived during the six-month period.

Further, Costa Mesa would also begin a pilot program under which certain areas in the public right of way, including traffic lanes, would be blocked off to allow for more seating. West Randolph and West 19th streets, in addition to a portion of East 18th Street, are being considered.

“This is going to help our business community quite a bit,” said Mayor Katrina Foley. “Outdoor dining is going to become something people really want — no one wants to be cooped up inside right now, because of the uncertainty of the community transmission of the virus.”

The Orange County Health Care Agency reported eight new deaths and 137 new cases of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 on Wednesday.

Tuesday’s ordinance would also allow religious institutions to hold temporary outdoor church services in parking lots, though facilities within 200 feet of residential areas would be prohibited from holding outdoor services between 7 p.m. and 9 a.m.

Businesses will be expected to apply for the new temporary permits, which city officials will review on a case-by-case basis, Curtis said. After the 180-day period has passed, council members will have the option to expand the program further.

“It really is a way to create some very special spaces for our restaurants,” Mayor Pro Tem John Stephens said of the ordinance. “Oddly enough, it might turn into a real silver lining for this crisis we’re addressing.”

Also Tuesday, council members:

• Approved an emergency declaration made by City Manager Lori Ann Farrell Harrison over the weekend, ratifying her decision to impose a citywide curfew on May 31 and June 1 to help maintain safety in the face of possible anticipated demonstrations and rioting.

• Authorized Farrell Harrison to accept $2,746,469 from the county in CARES Act funding, to be used for economic recovery from losses sustained during the coronavirus pandemic. The city manager said staff would return to a future council meeting with recommendations for how to spend the allocation, which comes with certain restrictions.

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