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Manhattan Beach Parklets Remain Closed - For Now

Jan 20, 2021 11:38AM ● By Jeanne Fratello

The outdoor dining parklet at Love & Salt

Despite heated discussion on the issue in the community, the Manhattan Beach City Council did not take further action on the issue of reopening the city's outdoor dining/seating "parklets" at its Tuesday night meeting.

Council members emphasized, however, that the issue is very much under discussion and the subcommittee is continuing conversations with community and business stakeholders.

"We’re all working toward the same goal," said Councilmember Steve Napolitano, a member of the subcommittee.

Public Pressure on Both Sides

The closure of the outdoor public seating had been announced on January 2 after a decision by the council's COVID-19 Long Term Business Solutions Ad Hoc Committee, a panel that includes councilmembers Steve Napolitano and Richard Montgomery.

The closure was met with both praise and derision from community members, quickly becoming one of the most hotly contested issues of the pandemic. However, when the issue came before the full council on January 6, the council did not take a vote on the issue as it became clear that there would not be enough votes to overturn the decision.

In the meantime, many restaurant owners and community members have been calling for the city to reopen the parklets to help the restaurants and other businesses that have suffered from pandemic-related restrictions. Last week, the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business and Professionals Association created a survey that asked residents to weigh in on opening the parklets.

At the same time, those who call for caution in reopening have pointed to hospitals filled to capacity as well as local increase in COVID-19 cases. The number of COVID-19 cases in Manhattan Beach has increased by 184 since January 3, the date parklets were officially closed. The number of COVID-19 deaths has more than doubled since then, going from 4 to 9 since the beginning of January.

Conversations with Stakeholders

Napolitano explained at Tuesday night's meeting that the panel is continuing talks with stakeholders.

"We are well aware that the restaurants have done everything that we’ve asked of them," said Napolitano. "It was not the city of Manhattan Beach that shut down outdoor dining - it was Los Angeles County, on November 23. We created a workaround with the parklets, which people could sit at. But we were a victim of our own success. We were in the newspapers, we got all the attention, we got all the crowds. They gathered, they weren’t socially distanced, the rules weren't enforced. We shut down parklets as a result, as numbers went up, and cases and deaths increased."

Napolitano added that he was "fully in support" of outdoor dining, adding that he believed that regulating controlled outdoor dining was a much safer solution than outdoor parklets. "It’s the gatherings. It's the sitting and standing shoulder to shoulder that we know does cause infection."

Napolitano said that on Monday he and Councilmember Richard Montgomery met with Manhattan Beach City Manager Bruce Moe; Community Development Director Carrie Tai; Jill Lamkin, executive director of the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business and Professionals Association; Kelly Stroman, president and CEO of the Manhattan Beach Chamber of Commerce; Michael Greenberg, president of Skechers; and Mike Simms, owner of the Simms Restaurant Group.

"We talked about ways to improve the situation for when it does reopen," said Napolitano. "We did not make the decision then and there to reopen; we're still working on what the protocols will be. We hope to see the numbers stabilize, and we're hoping to reopen [the parklets] as soon as possible."

In the meantime, the city is preparing to roll out a $250,000 small business loan program, which would loan up to $10,000 to aid brick and mortar businesses in the city of Manhattan Beach. The loan program will officially roll out on January 27.

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