The Huntington Beach City Council Monday night unanimously directed staff to draw up a plan expanding outdoor dining, but shut down a move to expand the reopening to more businesses.
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Councilmembers Mike Posey and Patrick Brenden initiated the discussion on reopening restaurants and expanding outdoor seating opportunities, specifically by converting unused parking spaces to a staging area for tables.
“What I’m proposing is that staff take a look at how restaurants in Huntington Beach can utilize their outdoor spaces for table service,” Posey said. “We already allow restaurants to deliver to go meals and cocktails to go. It would seem the natural extension of that service would be to allow those patrons to take those meals to a table that’s just outside the restaurant.”
Brenden listed just under a dozen cities that had instituted similar programs, and said Huntington Beach should issue temporary use permits to allow restaurants to start the process of reopening.
“This is a proposal that is not unique to us, this is something that has been emerging as part of the recovery process.” Brenden said. “It just seems logical that if there was open space available outdoors adjacent to their property…it would make sense that that would be a reasonable accommodation to help restaurants get back on their feet.”
Pacific City and Bella Terra, two of the major malls in Huntington Beach, sent a letter to the City Council in support of the parking space plan, asking the city waive any fees that would come with the temporary use permits to convert the parking spots.
“Our property management staff, including security and maintenance crews, are taking every precaution to ensure Pacific City and Bella Terra are a safe and welcoming place for guests to visit as the city begins to reopen,” said the letter dated May 15. “They are prepared to enforce the city’s guidelines.”
Other City Council members also said the idea of outdoor expansion could be used for other retail opportunities.
“I think this is the tip of the iceberg in how we rethink our business in the next few months,” said Councilwoman Kim Carr.
Councilman Erik Peterson also agendized a discussion on reopening all businesses and the policies needed to begin restarting the economy, but the council tabled the item.
Peterson said every business should be able to work under the label of essential business, and that guidelines for reopening should be uniform across the board. Peterson also called for churches to reopen, saying the closures restricted freedom of religion.
“If we have a way if the state or the county says these businesses can open if they do social distancing, then why can’t we apply those to all the businesses?” Peterson said. “If one business can do it they all can. There’s no rhyme or reason to this essential business stuff.”
“All businesses should be treated the same. It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of thought put into this who’s essential and who’s not.”
Councilmember Barbara Delgleize raised concerns that a mass reopening of businesses in the city could lead to new issues with people not understanding the guidelines.
“My concern is to not just come across with one big brush and open everything up,” Delgleize said. “We have to address the concerns of all people. Opening up everything is not the responsible way to do it.”
Carr also brought up concerns that the City Council did not have the power to control reopening business.
“I think people have the misconception we shut down Huntington Beach. Conversely, we can’t open it up,” Carr said. “All of this is being determined by the county and the state.”
The argument the council tabled took up over three hours of public comment. The majority of the more than 100 commenters were in favor of reopening the city’s businesses, including nearly 40 people who spoke in favor of reopening businesses in person, repeating slogans such as “lead by facts, not fear,” and calling the coronavirus a “plannedemic.”
Plenty disagreed on how many businesses should be reopened.
“I grew up in Huntington Beach, and I believe all businesses should be opened. We’re guaranteed life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said one speaker at the meeting.
Another speaker who telephoned into the meeting, identifying himself as a retired biomedical scientist, argued against reopenings.
“This discussion makes me sad. I feel the pain of business owners and I hope we can find a way to open businesses, but I think (reopening) is totally misguided,” he said. “This is not a fake pandemic.”
City staff expects to return with a plan for expanding outdoor dining by June 1.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.