Huntington Beach City Council members tonight will talk about ways to start reopening businesses, including measures for outdoor dining at restaurants.
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The discussion comes after several weeks of Orange County local elected officials feuding with the governor, who ordered the closure of all the county’s beaches while allowing other coastal counties to self regulate.
Several cities quickly responded with a lawsuit led by Huntington Beach and Dana Point, with support from Newport Beach, although they were not a named plaintiff in the suit.
Supervisor Don Wagner also threatened that Newsom would be forced to send down the National Guard and the California Highway Patrol to enforce the order, and OC Sheriff Don Barnes made an official statement that his officers would not enforce the beach closures.
Huntington Beach, Newport Beach and several other cities were allowed to reopen after their plans were approved by the state. The primary requirements for anyone visiting were that they be engaged in “active recreation,” such as hiking or biking.
Before their plans were approved, Huntington Beach led a lawsuit against the state of California to force the governor to reopen the beaches.
Stationary recreation, including options such as sunbathing, are not allowed on the beach under those agreements.
On Friday evening, a local judge officially rejected Huntington Beach’s legal challenge against Newsom’s beach closures, saying the beaches are now open for active use while also pointing to Supreme Court precedent that liberties are not absolute when a state is fighting an epidemic.
The council placed two separate items on the agenda to discuss reopening Monday night, but none of them have any concrete actions attached beyond directing staff to investigate whether the proposed programs could be implemented.
Councilmembers Mike Posey and Patrick Brenden are asking staff to develop a program that would allow new outdoor seating options at restaurants.
“Take out service for food and beverage is already allowed. Patrons should have, and for all practical purposes already have, dining access within public and private spaces,” the councilmembers said in their agenda report. “Adoption of the program would boost restaurant sales as well as boost a return to socialization.”
In a phone interview Saturday morning, Posey said one of his ideas for expanding the outdoor areas would be to convert public and private parking spaces to outdoor eating areas, and that restaurants wouldn’t need as much parking as normal due to the social distancing requirements.
“Half of those parking spaces wouldn’t be used for parking cars, and then you could use them for parking tables,” Posey said. “All restaurants are allowed to service now, why couldn’t a patron take it to a table right outside the restaurant and consume it on site?”
Posey said that he’d already heard massive support for the program from Pacific City, and that it could help the city increase their sales tax revenue, a significant portion of the city’s annual tax revenue.
“I can’t imagine anyone wouldn’t want to go to a restaurant. We’ve been cocooned,” Posey said. “If I can go out and eat outside and I can walk downtown or drive down, and eat outside, I’m going. I want to support our restaurants and I’ve been supporting them as much as I can to go.”
Councilman Erik Peterson asked for a discussion on reopening businesses and the policies needed to begin restarting the economy, saying that he hopes to see as many businesses as possible reopened.
“I’m hoping we see every business as essential. It’s essential to our economy and it’s essential to people’s well being,” Peterson said. “I’m so worried about businesses, especially our small businesses in town, not having what they need whenever this goal post changes daily on what can open and what can’t on what they’re going to need to reopen.”
Peterson said that his goal is to give consumers the option to either stay home or go out for their shopping, but that they should have both options.
“I’m hoping the council agrees and we basically say open up your business, do it safely, and follow the county guidelines,” Peterson said. “The consumer is going to decide, but I want the consumer to have a choice to go out, and let businesses have the tools to start again.”
He also asked for a discussion on the level of enforcement the city needed to continue with the state’s orders, saying that it had been mostly handled by city staff but that it was a policy discussion the council needed to have.
“Huntington Beach isn’t Sacramento, Huntington Beach isn’t LA,” Peterson said. “The governor knows what he knows, he knows San Francisco, and he left that a mess when he left, but he doesn’t know us and I think we know a little better.”
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NBiesiada.