By Bradley Zint
A pilot program intended to help struggling Laguna Beach restaurants add new outdoor dining space is still winding its way through City Hall more than two weeks after the City Council approved it.
The council signed off on the “parklet” program—which transforms parking stalls into new uses like dining space—on July 21. The unanimous vote came with a $50,000 expenditure toward parklet construction, with individual businesses eligible for up to $5,000 of that fund.
The parklet program supplements another action the council took in May that allows the city’s community development director to approve outdoor dining on a wide public sidewalk, as well as outdoor commercial spaces and private parking lots. For those that lack such space, city officials said a parklet could be another option.
Since mid-July, indoor dining has been banned in California as a precaution against spreading COVID-19.
Two of the restaurants that had inquired City Hall about parklets—Harley and Dizz’s As Is—told the Laguna Beach Independent in recent days that they’ve been in contact with city officials but, more than two weeks later, are still awaiting action.
In a statement this week, Marc Wiener, Laguna Beach’s community development director, clarified that “We are working with several restaurants that have either applied for or are interested in constructing a parklet. We are in the process developing some general design guidelines, but are not mandating a uniform design” of the parklets.
Greg Daniels, chef and owner of Harley at 370 Glenneyre St., said when the parklet happens, it should help.
“But it’s not going to rock my world in any way,” he added.
Daniels said Harley does already have some outdoor seating set up along Mermaid Street: five tables with 10 seats.
“It’s giving me visibility on the street … it brings more attention to the building,” he said.
Like most restaurants, Harley is getting by on takeout business.
“It’s not sustainable right now, but business has been picking up,” Daniels said. “With this additional outdoor seating, we could get there. I’m hoping and working to get it really happening.”
When the council approved the parklet program, officials pointed to its implementation in Santa Monica. Laguna has a history of using it, too.
In 2016, Alessa, the Forest Ave. Italian restaurant, had a temporary parklet made that was part of a broader effort to make Forest Ave. a more pedestrian-friendly promenade.
The final product took over two parking spaces. Wooden walls bordered the semi-enclosed structure, which gave Alessa space for about 20 more diners.
Some found the parklet controversial, though, arguing that it only benefitted Alessa’s patrons, not the general public, in an area where parking is in high demand. Alessa’s owner, Alessandro Pirozzi, said at the time that he was donating profits from the outdoor space to local charities, including Laguna Beach’s library and Friendship Shelter.