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Wary Council Wants More Cost Info on Outdoor Dining First

Feb 22, 2024 08:38AM ● By Mb News Staff

A proposed outdoor dining schematic reviewed at the Manhattan Beach City Council meeting. Image via city of Manhattan Beach.

A sizable and busy Outdoor Dining Task Force, along with city staff, brought three issues to the Manhattan Beach City Council on Tuesday for potential decisions.

Council put off all three requests, instead demanding rough cost estimates from city staff for the widening of sidewalks by between 4 to 8 feet, as proposed for certain downtown and North End districts around shopping and restaurants. The idea was to "phase" the steps toward any formal, long-term planning for creating infrastructure and rules for outdoor dining.

Referring to past projects involving consultants and public input to develop plans for the city that ultimately proved to be too costly and unworkable, councilmembers expressed that they did not want to repeat the same process and wind up at a dead end.

Mayor Joe Franklin was just the first to express a sentiment heard from each council member: "Why proceed if it is going to be cost prohibitive?"

Councilmember Steve Napolitano said, "We should be able to ballpark up front ... a guesstimate for sidewalks. Is it $1 million a block?"

"I want to be sure that whatever we're going to consider is doable," Napolitano said.

Councilmember Richard Montgomery observed, "This project… if it moves forward with redoing anything on Manhattan Ave. or MBB, it’s a massive, complex project. It sounds easy, I know. It is not easy… There are 1,000 questions that you’ll have to go through."

By a 5-0 vote, the council directed staff to come up with "conceptual" cost estimates on sidewalk widening, which will involve a collaboration of the Community Development Department and the Public Works Department.

The vote to get numbers from staff was effectively a rebuke to a request for more than $90,000 for a consulting firm, which would have delivered some cost estimates and in other ways would have advanced the outdoor dining process.

Although the vote appeared to slow the outdoor dining effort, most council members expressed appreciation for the task force's work and a desire to keep the process moving, piece by piece.

Councilmember David Lesser summed up the mood, saying, "All of us up here are grateful for the long term outdoor dining task force and their work. They’ve done what we’ve asked, through [city] staff and the consultant – coming up with a vision. But now is a time when we really need to fundamentally regroup and decide: Is this feasible?"

Mayor Pro Tem Amy Howorth said, "Our restaurants are creating the charm of our downtown right now. They bring community out... I want us to give clear direction tonight so that the process keeps moving."

Public comments and some discussion among councilmembers raised concerns about negative impacts from potential dining expansion: noise, trash and vehicle loading/unloading. The Outdoor Dining Task Force is also grappling with those issues and proposals to mitigate the concerns, which are prevalent even today, without expanded dining options.

Three Requests Put on Hold

The three requests that City Council had been asked consider included:

1) Review and possibly approve the "preferred plan and goals" brought forward by the Task Force
2) Approve plans to make changes to public areas at the 10th Street walkstreet on the east side of Manhattan Avenue
3) Authorize a $91,726 expansion of the contract for consulting firm MIG to develop preliminary plans and cost estimates for the Task Force's designs

All of those issues will have to come back to the council after initial cost estimates are presented, assuming there remains a motivation to continue the planning process. 

"Yes," said Montgomery, "people who want dining to happen tomorrow are going to be upset."

Alluding to suggestions that there could be city, state, regional or other grant funds available to help, Montgomery said, "No one’s going to give us a dime. For one thing they don’t feel sorry for us... They’ll say, 'Spend your own money.' So unless we can afford it, we’re not going to do it. It’s simple. Anything else stops there."

Council did not appear to provide a deadline for the city staff report on cost estimates, but all expressed eagerness to get numbers to advance the conversation.

Long-Term Outdoor Dining Plan Is Long-Term Goal

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the city had created an outdoor dining and business use program for public safety purposes. That temporary program concluded at the end of February 2023 as California’s local emergency declaration expired.

Nevertheless, the temporary outdoor dining proved to be extremely popular, leading to multiple residents - and restaurants - calling for a way to bring it back.

The city appointed members of an Outdoor Dining Ad Hoc Task Force in April 2023, following an avalanche of public interest, with 118 residents applying for just eight open seats. (The 15-member panel had already had seven seats filled with city/commercial representatives.)

The task force has been charged with working on solutions for a permanent outdoor dining program that balances various interests of stakeholders while complying with state and local laws. It has held nine meetings so far.

In June 2023, City Council agreed to a 15-month, $400,000 contract for MIG to work on the city's long-term outdoor dining plan. The scope of the work included design and engineering, parking and traffic, a fiscal impact analysis, environmental documentation, and community engagement.

To keep up with the latest developments and meetings as they are scheduled, visit the city's Outdoor Dining page.

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