Long Beach’s Open Streets program will remain in place through the summer, and many of the sidewalk parklets that have opened up over the last year will likely be able to remain in place permanently.
The City Council voted unanimously at its Tuesday, May 18, meeting to extend the program, which was set to expire June 30, for another three months and to begin creating a process for some parklets to remain permanently.
The extension will allow some street closures, parking lot tents and most parklets to remain in place through Sept. 30, though businesses that have parklets for office uses — a case that only applies to one business, according to city staff, which is a real estate firm in Belmont Shore — will not be eligible.
Beyond that one exception, the mayor and council members said they recognized the opportunities the program created for businesses and would like to continue offering that support, in some cases, long-term.
“Early on, when the pandemic hit and there was an opportunity to do the outdoor dining,” Mayor Robert Garcia said, “this council stepped right in and did the right thing, really providing a lifeline for restaurants to be able to operate outdoors in a way that was safe.”
But just because the initiative has been “wildly successful,” Garcia said, that doesn’t mean the program should stay in place as is.
Input from residents and business owners, for example, has leaned toward reopening streets that have been closed to traffic during the coronavirus pandemic, he said. And many parklets that are currently in place have created safety concerns, as well as traffic and parking impacts.
That’s why, Garcia said, it will be important to create a process, which will involve input from city staff, local residents and business districts, to determine which parklets would be best suited for remaining in place long-term.
“We want to have a process that is easy and that business owners feel comfortable going through and navigating,” he said, “so we can hopefully make some of these permanent where it may work to make them permanent.”
Parklets that are made permanent will likely have an aesthetic upgrade. The structures that are currently in place, City Manager Tom Modica said, were put up quickly because of the urgent nature of assisting businesses during the pandemic. But that wouldn’t be the case with structures that are put in place permanently.
That was a point that Councilman Al Austin emphasized during the discussion.
“We want our businesses to succeed,” he said, “and the best way to do that is, I think, with parklets that look good.”
One aspect of the Open Streets program that may not be in place beyond Sept. 30, though, is the ability for businesses to keep permits allowing them to set up tents in parking lots for outdoor service.
Those permits, Modica said, were only allowed because of the pandemic.
“We’re really allowing them to use something that is traditionally only designed for parking,” he said, “for very different and nonconventional uses.”
Modica said his team could come up with ideas about how to potentially allow some of those permits to stay in place long-term, but they would be managed separately from the parklets.
While some local residents have expressed concerns about specific parklets that have created traffic and safety issues, it seemed on Tuesday that the council’s vote addressed those worries.
Alex Cherin, a representative for the Long Beach Restaurant Association, was the only person to speak in public comment. He said he supported the proposal, both for its impact on businesses and for its impact on residents.
“The response (to parklets) from citizens throughout the city of Long Beach,” he said, “has been that they want to keep them as long as possible.”