Palm Springs to discuss the future of outdoor dining parklets

At the Palm Springs restaurantThai Smile, manager Dean Presnal, said the restaurant’s parklet, which extends alfresco dining to street parking on Indian Canyon Drive, has helped boost business and provide additional seating. since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It has been good for us and it gives us a little more space to sit,” he said. Presnal said Thai Smile would like to keep the parklet “for at least a little while” after the COVID-19 emergency orders are lifted. The state plans to drop most coronavirus restrictions on June 15.

But two doors down from the PS Homeboys furniture store, store owners Jeremy Taylor and Niels Kosman say the parklet blocks visibility to their storefront and has reduced foot traffic. “It’s a total eye sore and directly blocks the view of our business,” Taylor said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Palm Springs and other cities allowed restaurants to develop parklets or outdoor dining areas in street parking spaces. This has allowed restaurants to expand their outdoor dining capacity despite restrictions on indoor dining.

A group of locals host a celebratory lunch while dining in the temporary outdoor park at Lulu California Bistro in Palm Springs on June 9, 2021.

Now Palm Springs officials will decide whether outdoor street dining should continue as pandemic restrictions relax. The city council will discuss the possible extension of the parklet program at its Thursday evening meeting.

The city’s temporary permits allow commercial parking lots until the state lifts COVID-19 emergency orders. City staff recommend that the parklets continue for an additional 12 months to help restaurants recoup the funds they spent to install the parklets. In some cases, restaurateurs have spent thousands of dollars on parklets.

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In March 2020, the city began issuing temporary permits for outdoor dining on private property and on public sidewalks in response to COVID-19 restrictions on indoor dining.

In August, city council ordered staff to temporarily close an area three blocks from Palm Canyon Drive to allow alfresco dining on the street. Palm Canyon Drive was later reopened, but the city continued to allow outdoor dining in parklets in street parking spots.

The legislation proposed by the state would also allow the permanent extension of the commercial use of the parks. Senate Bill 314 focuses on extending permits that allow restaurants to serve alcohol in parklets,that the Department of Alcohol Control temporarily authorized during the pandemic through catering permits.

If passed, Senate Bill 314 would allow these permits to be extended for an additional 365 days after the COVID-19 state of emergency is lifted. Applicants could then request the permanent expansion of their premises to include the parklet area.

The municipal staff report notes that the bill would only apply to business parks where alcohol is served, and the bill would not restrict the city’s ability to approve parklets for other uses.

City staff recommend that Palm Springs allow all businesses with an existing license to continue to use the parks for an additional 12 months, with the option to apply for a new license to extend their use of the parks beyond that. dated. Staff also recommend that the city allow applications for new parks for commercial and public use. There are currently no public use parklets in Palm Springs, but these spaces typically offer free outdoor seating that is not connected to a restaurant and is open to the public.

At Trio, owner Tony Marchese estimates the restaurant spent between $ 25,000 and $ 30,000 on their parklet, and they plan to spend about $ 10,000 more on foggers and more shade for the summer months. He said the city should expand parking permits to help restaurants recoup those costs.

“The parklets and outdoor seating have been a blessing. They have to expand it – this is very important for all of us. Some of us have spent a lot of money to make it look good; we had to buy extra tables and stuff so I think that should be extended for at least a year or two, ”Marchese said.

Trio's parklet extends to parking lots along Palm Canyon Dr., June 9, 2021.

A public comment letter from Jennifer Seymour, vice president of Hunters Palm Springs, a bar on Arenas Road, makes a similar point.

“The removal of the Hunters private parking lot will have a severe impact on our ability to fully recover from a full year of lost revenue … For a large nightclub like Hunters with losses estimated at $ 3,000,000, the parking lot back representing $ 20,000 in additional sales per weekend, it will take 150 good weekends to recoup the lost sales of 2020, ”Seymour wrote.

Mario Escobar, a server at Inka on Palm Canyon Drive, said the parklets have made downtown Palm Springs “more alive”.

“The extension of the parklets would be the best thing for us; it was really, really good on the weekend and helped business during the pandemic. With the extension on the street, you can also see smaller restaurants that you might not see without the parklet, the restaurants have more space and it just changes the vibe of the city center, ”said Escobar.

Luis Reyna, who was visiting Palm Springs from Los Angeles, said Monday that he had eaten in the parklets throughout his weekend in Palm Springs and that he planned to continue to dine out. until the risk of COVID is zero “.

“If companies are investing in outdoor dining, it’s fair to let them keep it. And I feel like it enhances the Palm Springs experience. If someone wants to sit outside and enjoy the sun, then let them, ”Reyna said.

Next to Las Casuelas, Dean Cannon and Brad Marton, who hail from Ventura, said they also appreciate the additional outdoor dining options offered by the parklets.

“I think they should let restaurants keep them even after COVID, it would help them a lot to boost them and really help them recover,” Cannon said, adding that they personally like the outdoor options because it allows them to take their dog with them to restaurants.

The parklets created a certain tension between the restaurants and their neighbors. Some downtown businesses say the parklets have caused traffic and parking problems and reduced the visibility of storefronts.

“The city basically discriminated against all other merchants in order to help a few restaurants. It created an unfair economic and environmental burden on everyone except the restaurants,” said Ken Shearn of Rare Coins and Precious Metals Palm Springs. a comment letter given to city council.

Palm Springs City Council is on the verge of deciding what to do with restaurant outdoor dining areas that have been set up to stay open during the pandemic.  These two for Lulu California Bistro and Zin American Bistro are blocking access to Arenas Road, June 9, 2021.

To create more space for parklets, Palm Canyon Drive was reduced from three lanes to two between Tahquitz Canyon Way and Baristo Road, and Arenas Road was closed to traffic between Palm Canyon Drive and Indian Canyon Drive. Some companies in Arenas Road are now asking for the reopening of Arenas Road.

“The Arenas District would love to see the street reopen in Palm Canyon. This does not mean that we do not support our neighbors who continue to have access to their parklets. It just means that we are now disconnected from downtown and stranded. . ”states a commentary letter from Dean Lavine at the Black Book Bar on Arenas Road.

City staff recommend reopening Arenas Road on July 1, but continuing to reduce lanes on Palm Canyon Drive. To address the loss of on-street parking, city staff recommends considering the possible creation of additional on-street parking and a signage program that would direct people to downtown public parking lots.

Others have criticized the aesthetics of the parklets.

“It looks in disguise; it doesn’t look like Palm Springs,” PS Homeboys’ Taylor said of Thai Smile’s parklet.

Because the parklet program was implemented quickly during the pandemic, staff were unable to prepare design standards for the parklets. The staff report notes that temporary parklet permits have rules on the aesthetics of parklets, but these have mostly not been enforced.

If parklets are allowed permanently, then staff will develop design standards for the new parklets. The design standards would include rules on the permitted dimensions of the parklet, permitted materials and colors, the permitted height of shading devices such as umbrellas and tents, and compliance with ADA accessibility standards.

For existing parks, staff recommend that a more limited list of design standards be imposed due to the challenges business owners face in recovering the costs of changing their parklets. The staff also recommend a monthly rental fee for the parklets. The city does not currently charge any fees for the use of public space for parklets.

Erin Rode covers towns in the west of the Coachella Valley, namely Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs. Contact her at [email protected]

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