Two Orange County cities have approved amendments to improve and expand their respective outdoor dining programs after seeing their success throughout the pandemic. 

La Habra and Tustin city councils both have given final approval to implement the changes. La Habra modified its outdoor seating requirements for restaurants while Tustin extended its program as well as implemented new outdoor dining categories. 

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La Habra City Council approved an ordinance with the goal to simplify the approval process for restaurants that want to utilize the outdoor dining area, specifically, increasing the percentage of the outdoor dining area in relation to its total floor area, according to a city staff report. The outdoor dining area in a restaurant would have to exceed 50% of the total gross floor area of the property before a business must seek a conditional use permit modification from the Planning Commission.

La Habra Mayor Pro-Tem James Gomez said during a September City Council meeting that the changes are “something that the business community has asked for.”

Meanwhile, the Tustin City Council in September gave final approval to extend the city’s temporary outdoor dining program until Dec. 31, allowing time for businesses to adhere to the new regulations. The city’s new ordinance divides the current program into three categories – outdoor seating areas, outdoor dining areas and dining in the public right of way. 

Read More: Orange County Cities Continue Looking to Outdoor Dining During Pandemic

According to Assistant Planner Jorge Maldonado, who updated the council during the the initial reading of the ordinance in August, outdoor seating areas must include the following: have portable seats, tables and chairs, no permanent construction or improvements, no alcoholic beverage services and the seating area must be taken down by 11 p.m. These areas will not be required to have additional parking spaces. If all requirements are met, then businesses will not need to submit for design approval from the community development director for their individual outdoor seating areas.

Outdoor dining areas (which are different from outdoor seating areas) must include the following: an identifiable outdoor dining space on private property that is enclosed with fencing, planters etc., and permanent flooring and outdoor furniture. All outdoor dining areas will be required to submit for design review and receive approval from the community development director.

Dining in the public right of way – the newest addition to the outdoor dining program – is identified as “dining located on public property such as sidewalks, curbs or parklets,” Maldonado told the council during his presentation. Local restaurants and businesses must also obtain a license from the city of Tustin for use of the public right of way, according to a city staff report

According to a survey conducted by the city, out of 180 Tustin business owners and 1,282 residents and patrons, 77% of respondents were in favor of extending the outdoor dining program. 

It just shows us the community wants this. They want to be outdoors and they want to be active,” Councilmember Ryan Gallagher said in response to the survey results. 

Kara Davis, a resident of Tustin, was also in favor of the ordinance. 

“I thought Old Town [Tustin] was this sleepy little place. [People] want to go to Orange, [people] want to go to downtown Santa Ana, and that changed during COVID-19 because of the outdoor dining. I saw people wanting to come here, I saw there were people out and about… it was really cool to see that,” Davis told the council members.

Tustin’s new outdoor dining ordinance is set to go into effect mid-October, while La Habra’s new law goes into effect in early November.

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