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City Council Votes on Measures to Ensure Safe Restaurant Reopenings
The Beverly Hills City Council has voted to expand the remedies at its disposal for enforcing Los Angeles County public health orders. It has also voted to waive special event permit fees for temporary use of the public right of way for outdoor dining.
Both matters came up at the Council’s June 16 Study Session, as modifications to the Urgency Ordinance enacted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The issue of health order enforcement as it pertains to dining establishments is widespread. On May 30, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health (LACDPH) issued guidelines for restaurants to reopen in-room dining. Those protocols include maintaining a distance of six feet between tables; permitting a maximum of 60 percent capacity for indoor dining rooms; allowing no more than six people per table; requiring face masks and shields for all employees and wait staff, as well as for customers, when not eating. As set forth in a 10-page document issued by LACDPH, outdoor seating and curbside pickup should be prioritized. And, outdoor dining areas (with six feet between tables) should be expanded wherever possible.
As indicated by County Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer, those guidelines are not generally being followed. In a press conference on June 15, Ferrer stated:
“We did have our teams out this weekend. They visited 2,000 restaurants. They found that 50 percent of the restaurants were still not in compliance. They’ll be revisiting all of the restaurants that were not in compliance and issuing them an order to come into compliance.”
The Courier reached out to the LACDPH for clarification about the compliance orders, but no response has been received as of press time. In Beverly Hills, officials have recognized the challenges the new guidelines pose.
“We want to get back to business, we want it to be safe,” said Councilman John Mirisch. “We want to be a model of safety for everybody, and we’ve seen the reports in the L.A. Times and elsewhere that about 50 percent of restaurants now, not necessarily in Beverly Hills, are not following the rules. We really need to figure out a way, not only to expedite and help the restaurants, but to ensure they are protecting the safety of all of the employees and of the guests.”
The newly adopted amendments to the Urgency Ordinance will give the City the option of enforcing the County health orders through the use of infractions or administrative citations for minor violations. The City staff believe that to ensure compliance, citing violations with an infraction or issuing an administrative citation will prove more effective than citing as a misdemeanor, which carries a criminal penalty.
The City is focusing on creative measures to ensure compliance with the County rules, while helping business owners. They’ve begun exploring the use of public and private parking lots, joint use of sidewalks and parklets — a sidewalk extension — to create additional dining capacity. The survival of many local restaurants may depend on it.
A new initiative called Open Beverly Hills will facilitate the temporary increase in total restaurant capacity. The program
enables restaurants to apply for a special event permit to use the public right of way for additional outdoor dining. To help businesses get back on their feet, the City voted to waive the $800 special event permit fee and eliminate the requirement to apply 10 days before the special event. “The goal is to try and help these businesses open up quickly to provide for their outdoor seating, as opposed to a process taking months and months,” said Councilwoman Lili Bosse.
Once permit requests are filed, City staff will review them as well as layout plans to ensure adherence to social distance protocols.
“Our team looks at it very quickly,” said City manager George Chavez during the Study Session. “We collaborate with the fire department and building and safety and make sure that there’s a proper exiting, fire extinguishers and things of that nature. And the turnaround is typically within a couple of days. Our goal is to get people back to up and running this process.”
Chavez is currently working with the Japanese restaurant Matsuhisa, located on North La Cienega, on diagrams that will expand the dining area into their adjacent parking lot. The City has already approved a request to use of the sidewalk portion of the cul-de-sac on Canon Drive for Wolfgang Puck’s Spago, to accommodate more temporary outdoor dining.
The Council’s COVID-19 Business Recovery and Assistance Task Force is also on hand to help business. The City’s Marketing and Economic Sustainability Manager, Laura Biery, said at the June 16 Study Session, “I have had the opportunity to go out and personally visit with many of our most popular restaurants that we have in town. We’ve been through a lot of educational visits with them and the other businesses that have been able to open at this time due to the COVID-19 restrictions slowly fading out.” Biery said one way to successfully enforce the new COVID-19 guidelines is to have a greeter and offer complimentary face masks. Customers who do not comply will be denied entry. “If you do see any restaurants or any other businesses that don’t happen to be compliance with the protocol, we’re happy to make those individual visits and help educate them and provide that outreach,” she said.
The Council also adopted an ordinance to cap fees charged by food delivery services at 15 percent of the purchase price for delivery fees and five percent of the purchase price for all other fees and costs. The ordinance restricts delivery services from charging the restaurant an otherwise 30 to 40 percent fee for 90 days after restaurants are able to receive dine-in customers. The Council has structured the ordinance so that it can be extended beyond its present August 31 expiration.
For more information on Open Beverly Hills, visit: