Parking lots, sidewalks and public property can be used as places of business and worship in Newport Beach.

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The City Council Tuesday night unanimously adopted an emergency ordinance to allow businesses and religious institutions like churches to extend into public property through temporary use permits. 

“Our whole objective is how do we get all commercial entities up and running as quickly as possible. I think we may have observed over the weekend, at least I did, the enthusiasm of some of our restaurants to expand into their parking lots without seeking this conditional use permit,” said Councilwoman Diane Dixon.

The ordinance will allow Seimone Jurjis, Newport Beach’s community development director, the authority to authorize the permits.

Jim Mosher, a Newport Beach watchdog, told the council that even though the ordinance is well intended it is “terribly crafted.”

“It gives the community development director unbridled authority to issue an emergency temporary use permit by which he alone can suspend any provision of the Newport Beach municipal code,” Mosher said during public comment. 

Mayor Will O’Neill said the constraint on the director’s authority will be Jurjis’ integrity as well as the possibility of him losing his job if he does not listen to health concerns from public safety staff when approving the permits.

He added that the council trusts Jurjis. 

“In this situation, the community development director is given quite a bit of discretion and the reason for that is speed,” O’Neill said. “We are seeing an unfortunate number of our businesses shutter.”

City staff hope the ordinance will fast track a transition back to business and allow merchants to adjust to California’s reopening guidelines and maintain current occupancy numbers while accommodating state physical distancing requirements to reopen. 

“We had a pretty good idea that what would be happening is a reduced capacity reopening of our dining and retail establishments and we had members of the business community reaching out across all sectors to talk to us about trying to increase their floorspace, their ability to sell,” O’Neill said.

“We’ve had a lot of businesses asking for this consideration.” 

The Huntington Beach City Council last week directed staff to create a plan to expand outdoor sitting areas by converting unused parking spaces to a staging area for tables. Staff is expected to return with a plan to the council next week.

The Newport Beach ordinance is in effect immediately and any temporary use permits issued to businesses will expire two weeks after the city lifts the local emergency in place because of the coronavirus.

The permit allows businesses to decide how to use parking spaces for curbside service and expand outdoor dining for restaurants. Permit applications will be reviewed by the city in a streamlined checklist process to make sure there is enough available parking that doesn’t impact public streets, that state guidelines are practiced and ensure public health and safety.

The fees for the permit will be waived and the waivers could cost up to $150,000 depending on how many businesses apply for the permit. 

Jurjis said there are concerns that such use of public space outside the property could hinder wheelchair, fire truck, sidewalk and street parking accessibility and encouraged businesses interested in the permit to connect with the city.

“We don’t want to create the Wild West,” Jurjis said. “We want it to (be) much more orderly and identify specific areas where they can actually put tables or retail racks.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC news intern. Contact him or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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