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Manhattan Beach Reaffirms Closure of Dining Decks by Jan. 3

Dec 08, 2021 10:20AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

The dining deck in front of Slay Italian Kitchen in Manhattan Beach

It's official: After New Year's, Manhattan Beach's temporary outdoor dining decks are going away.

The Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday night reaffirmed its earlier decision that the outdoor dining decks in the public right-of-way could only remain in place until January 3, 2022. After that, restaurants would need to begin dismantling the dining decks.

However, councilmembers appeared to agree that while the temporary dining decks would be gone, the door was open for a serious discussion about how and where to establish more permanent outdoor dining opportunities.

"The things we have to pay attention to are the physical realities of our town," said Councilmember Joe Franklin. "We’re a small beach town. In Europe they have these plazas where they bring the tables out at night, and there's so much joy [outdoor dining] brings to people's lives. But one of the things we’re not blessed with is a plaza. We’re also not blessed with streets that lend themselves easily to closing down...and we don’t have 8 foot sidewalks."

Manhattan Beach Mayor Hildy Stern added: "In this city we can’t just say, 'We really like [outdoor dining] so we’ll keep it,' but we can say, 'We have a vision that we want to continue to work with.' This isn’t the end of the discussion; this is just a pause."

26 Dining Decks Affected

Currently, there are 26 outdoor dining encroachment areas that would be affected by the Jan. 3 shutdown. Those areas take up 62 parking spaces, and 10,717 square feet of public right-of-way area.

Those dining areas are at The Arthur J, Baja Sharkeez, Brewco, Cafe Wild, Culture Brewing, El Sombrero, Ercoles, Fishbar, Fishing With Dynamite, Hennessey's, Love & Salt, Mangiamo, Manhattan Pizzeria, MB Creamery, MB Post, Nando Trattoria, Rockefeller, Rock'N Fish, Simmzy's, Slay Italian Kitchen, Slay Steak and Fish House, Sugarfish, Tacolicious, The Strand House, Un Caffe Altamura, and Uncle Bill's.

City staff cited several factors in the need to take the dining decks down, including the temporary nature of the construction (requiring ongoing maintenance); the reduced public parking and ambient noise and traffic; and upcoming construction projects including a slurry seal road project and the refurbishment of Parking Lot 3.

The dining decks have already been scaled back: In October, the council agreed to trim back outdoor restaurant dining decks that were located in front of other storefronts, to help retailers reclaim visibility and accessibility in advance of the busy holiday retail season.

At Tuesday night's meeting, councilmembers praised the city's Community Development team, downtown restaurateurs, and merchants for working together to create functional and attractive temporary dining decks that helped restaurants get through the pandemic - and also for their flexibility in managing the complicated issue.

Advocacy For Dining Decks Continues

The outdoor dining decks have become a flashpoint for debate during the COVID pandemic.

Many residents and diners have embraced outdoor dining as part of a "new normal" and choose open-air dining as an alternative to gathering indoors. Restaurant owners have said that having the dining decks has allowed them to stay in business at a time when customers are still wary about dining indoors at a restaurant.

Yet many downtown residents and those near the dining decks have complained about noise, trash, traffic gridlock, road safety issues, and the lack of parking for residents and visitors.

Nevertheless, during Tuesday night's the public comment period, restaurant owner Mike Simms noted that the lack of visitor parking did not seem to deter people from coming to Manhattan Beach for two major recent events (the car show and the Holiday Open House and Pier Lighting).

"Magically, thousands of people showed up even with the loss of all that parking," Simms told councilmembers. "They’ll figure out how to get here. The more magical you make Downtown Manhattan Beach, the more likely people are going to come to it."

Simms pointed to a website created by local restaurant owners called Outdoor Dining Manhattan Beach that aims to mobilize residents and businesses in support of outdoor dining. He said that even without publicity, the site has already drawn about 400 supporters.

According to the website, the group's stated goals are to implement "an area-wide redesign" for outdoor dining that will "give diners access to beachside scenery while also providing cool shade" and similarly "upgrade the overall aesthetic and improve resident experiences."

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