Council approves expanded outdoor seating at restaurants
by Steven Felschundneff | email@example.com
The parklets in the Claremont Village have been gone for just over six months, but on Tuesday the Claremont City Council made good on its promise to expand outdoor dining in the City of Trees.
During its first meeting back from the August recess the council voted unanimously to allow additional seating on public sidewalks and patios for Claremont’s many restaurants and retail food stores.
Current city code allows for sidewalk seating of up to four people at food retailers and 12 outdoor diners at restaurants. The amendment passed on Tuesday will increase that to 12 people for retail establishments and 20 for restaurants. Additionally, outdoor tables would no longer be limited to a single row that is parallel to the building’s frontage.
Generally speaking, a business is considered a retail food store if less than 25% of its gross floor area is set aside for seating. Above that threshold, it’s considered a restaurant, according to Assistant to the City Manager Katie Wand.
The changes do come with some restrictions. Outdoor seating could not create unnecessary sidewalk congestion or accessibility issues, including inadequate space for people to exit from parked cars. Restaurateurs or retail food store owners who wished to expand or create new outdoor seating at their businesses would need to obtain a special outdoor use permit from the city.
If a restaurateur wanted to serve alcohol in a new or expanded outdoor seating area, they would need to secure permission from the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control and obtain an amendment to their existing conditional use permit from the city’s planning commission.
Like many municipalities, the Claremont City Council adopted a temporary outdoor dining program in June 2020 at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic. That program allowed many restaurants to generate enough income to stay in business during the height of mandated lockdowns. The program also allowed restaurant owners to build temporary “parklets” over parking spots in front of their businesses.
Four parklets were erected in the Village, including at Aruffo’s Italian Cuisine, Pizza & Such, House of Pong and a shared parklet for 42nd Street Bagel and Viva Madrid. The parklets covered 17 parking spots in the Village, all located on Yale Avenue and Second Street.
The council extended the temporary program, called Claremont al fresco, several times and it became a popular feature in the Village long after indoor dining restrictions were lifted.
However, the parklets were not universally loved. Some residents called them unsightly, and owners of Village retail establishments complained about the reduced number of parking spaces adjacent to their businesses.
City Council considered making the al fresco program permanent but ultimately voted in February to end it, giving the restaurant owners 14 days to remove the parklets. That same evening the council directed city staff to draft the expanded outdoor dining program that was approved on Tuesday.
During the pandemic the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control temporarily allowed restaurants to serve alcohol to diners in the parklets. However, when Governor Gavin Newsom ended the Covid state of emergency on February 28, the ABC advised that its temporary Covid alcohol permits would end a year later. As a result, restaurateurs will need to obtain permission from the state to continue alcohol service for any expanded seating by March 1, 2024.
Because the council’s action amends an existing ordinance, it will have a second reading, with a vote, at the next City Council meeting on September 27. If approved again, the changes would go into effect 30 days later.