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Grover considers making pandemic-era outdoor dining areas permanent 

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Lil' Bits Café had two or three tables right outside the entrance of their building on North 7th Street in Grover Beach. That more than doubled in July 2020, when the state issued orders restricting indoor dining in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

click to enlarge PIECEMEAL PATIO In response to 2020 COVID-19 restrictions, Lil' Bits Café transformed part of its parking lot into an outdoor dining space. - PHOTO COURTESY OF EMILY MASON
  • Photo Courtesy Of Emily Mason
  • PIECEMEAL PATIO In response to 2020 COVID-19 restrictions, Lil' Bits Café transformed part of its parking lot into an outdoor dining space.

Lil' Bits did what it could to make up for the lost seating inside, according to owner Jason Goetz. Goetz and his staff blocked off a portion of the diner's parking lot with bails of hay and lattice fencing, and set up old grill top picnic tables, chairs, and big umbrellas right on top of a few asphalt parking spots.

The piecemeal patio quickly became popular among most customers, who liked to enjoy the sunshine and safety of the outdoors while eating, and Goetz's employees, who felt less overwhelmed by the congestion and noise that's common inside the café.

Only a few customers have complained about the lost parking, so as COVID-19 restrictions locally and statewide ease, Goetz, like many other restaurant owners, is hoping to keep his newfound outdoor dining space intact post-pandemic.

"We do want to keep that thing, and we also want to invest into some more permanent fixtures," he said, adding that his landlord has been supportive of the idea. "The more seats you have the more opportunity you have to make money."

Now Grover Beach is considering possible policies that would make outdoor dining on public sidewalks, in parking lots, and in the form of street parklets a permanent option for local businesses. At a meeting on May 24, Grover Beach City Council discussed several ways it could continue to support businesses in their outdoor operations, including the expansion of a matching grant program geared toward helping businesses develop outdoor spaces.

In late July 2020, City Council adopted a resolution creating temporary use permits for businesses in need of outdoor operation space. The city, according to a city staff report, issued 22 such temporary use permits, the majority of which went to restaurants. The city also installed two dining parklets at restaurants on West Grand Avenue and funded a permanent patio at The Spoon Trade through a matching grant program, which awarded businesses up to $5,000 in CARES Act funding for the construction of outdoor dining spaces.

City Council members unanimously expressed interest in continuing and expanding the grant program, this time to help businesses beautify and solidify their outdoor operations.

Most, including Councilmember Anna Miller, said they also supported permanent outdoor uses in private parking lots, as long as businesses still meet their minimum parking requirements. Several, however, said they were concerned about the safety of street parklets, which generally sit directly beside high traffic streets, and sidewalk dining spaces, which could cause accessibility issues for pedestrians.

"I think there's some barriers there that we have to consider—that's making sure that we don't impede the flow of traffic for those who are in wheelchairs," Miller said at the meeting. "And additionally with the street parking, with parklets, we are taking away, potentially permanently, parking spaces in front of businesses. And I think I'd like to know more about impact before I can support that option."

City staff expect to bring a resolution regarding the allowance of outdoor business operations to City Council for consideration later this summer. Δ

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