A Manhattan Beach City Council subcommittee has extended the Manhattan Ave. street closure
at least one more week for outdoor dining.
At the city council's Feb. 16 meeting, councilmembers Steve Napolitano and Richard Montgomery announced that the COVID-19 Long Term Business Solutions Ad Hoc Committee had agreed to extend the street closure through next weekend, albeit with additional support to manage traffic.
Councilmembers heard both praise and concern about the street closures at the meeting. Restaurant owners on Manhattan Ave. expressed gratitude for the opportunity to expand dining, while owners of other restaurants asked for more equitable treatment. At the same time, some residents spoke of concerns about traffic and crowding.
"This was the best, easiest solution that we could tackle for some portions of the downtown to help with expanded seating area. This is not meant to be the only one," said Napolitano, adding, "This isn’t happening in a vacuum. We very much check on everything every day. Nothing is ever a done deal."
Napolitano noted that the subcommittee - which also includes downtown business representatives and residents - was a very "measured" group that tried to take in everyone’s input and concern.
"It’s a constant balancing act. Sometimes we're going to succeed greatly, sometimes we’re going to fail. If [the street closure] is not sustainable, we’ll take it away. We're not trying to take away from anyone; we’re trying to raise the tide for all," he said.
Council Hears Praise, Concerns
At the meeting, restaurant owners spoke out about the benefits and drawbacks of the plan, which currently only expands outdoor dining for the restaurants on two blocks of Manhattan Ave.
(plus general seating for takeout customers).
"It was a game changer. It gave us hope, it gave us light," said Mike Simms, CEO of the Simms Restaurant Group and president of the Downtown Manhattan Beach Business and Professionals Association. At the same time, he noted, "We have some very [happy] restaurant operators, and some looking for a more equitable solution."
Restaurant owners David LeFevre, of MB Post, Dario Vullo of Nando Trattoria, and David Slay of Slay Steak + Fish House expressed gratitude for the opportunity to serve more diners on a busy holiday weekend.
LeFevre said that while the street closure alone didn't make the restaurant financially "whole" again, it was a critical boost to allow him to bring back more team members. He added that while he understood that other restaurants were not able to benefit from the outdoor expansion due to location and other factors, he hoped that that wouldn't stop the city from trying out the plan in places where it can work, such as Manhattan Ave.
"I really hope that everyone understands that it doesn't mean that we should not [close the streets down] where we can if we can’t do it everywhere," said LeFevre. "I would hate to not employ another five, six, seven, or eight crew members because another restaurant can’t. The biggest difference it makes for us is with our team."
Yet restaurant owners Mike Zislis and Sylvie Gabriele, whose restaurants lie outside of the street closure zone, said they would like to see a more equitable plan.
Gabriele, owner of Love & Salt, said that her restaurant was operating at 61 percent less capacity, with 90 seats allowed inside pre-COVID, and only 36 seats outside currently. On the other hand, she noted, one restaurant on Manhattan Ave. was operating at 167 percent of capacity over the weekend, with 57 seats allowed indoors pre-COVID and now 95 seats outdoors.
"I am very concerned about the inequity that the closure is creating for restaurants," said Gabriele. "I personally feel a disparity between my 39 percent capacity and the 167 percent [of the other restaurant]." The difference in Love & Salt's capacity pre-COVID and now costs her about $100,000 to $150,000 per month, she said. "I find that to be very unequal and unfair."
Some residents also expressed concerns about traffic and safety. Carol Perrin, of the Downtown Residents Group, said that the street closures had caused the traffic to become "out of control," and that it took some residents more than a half-hour to get in and out of their houses.
Carrie Tai, the city's community development director, said that the city had heard the complaints of residents and would be making traffic "enhancements" and adding CSC event staff to address some of those concerns for the coming weekend.
"It is a constant act of fixing things here and there," said Councilmember Montgomery, a member of the subcommittee. "We’re looking at all options. All of us are open. We’re looking for good ideas."
Montgomery added, "We are trying something, folks. Last time I checked, we’re in a pandemic still. It's not perfect; we do the best we can, and we go from there."