Hermosa Beach curbs outdoor dining

Friends Matt (with Smokey the Senegal parrot), Barrett and Howard kick it at a Java Man outdoor table. Photo by Robb Fulcher

The city’s “Hermosa Clean Sweep” campaign, which cleared the sidewalks of non-permitted business signs and furniture, has ended almost all outdoor dining on the newly remade upper Pier Avenue, and suspended it – at the least – along most of Hermosa Avenue.

On the seaside Pier Plaza, where restaurants have long held permits, and carried liability insurance, to maintain large patios on city-owned pavement, al fresco dining will continue unhindered.

The “Clean Sweep” announced last month, directing businesspeople to remove non-permitted signs, furniture and merchandise from the public right-of-way, followed complaints from residents who said Hermosa sidewalks have become unsafely blocked, city officials said.

On Hermosa Avenue, restaurateurs will be able to return their tables and chairs to the sidewalk if they can secure city encroachment permits, but the granting of those permits is not a sure thing. The City Council would have to amend the zoning code to let eateries add outdoor tables – which would expand their footprint – without increasing their parking requirements.

Some Hermosa Avenue eateries have permits already, and their tables remain, for instance, the Starbucks and Coffee Bean coffeehouses hold permits for outdoor tables that are bolted to the sidewalk, and both businesses pay the city for the privilege.

Some businesses off Hermosa Avenue hold permits for outdoor dining as well; a notable example is the popular Martha’s 22nd Street Grill, which makes lease payments to the city for its patio on the public right-of-way, as restaurants do on the Plaza.

Upper Pier

On upper Pier, the town’s iconic main drag, tables and chairs on the newly widened, 14-foot-sidewalks appear to be gone for good. On that roadway, “Clean Sweep” enforces a deal city officials made with residents when they were hashing out the details of the $4.3 million upper Pier makeover.

In public meetings of the study committee that hammered out the upper Pier plan, numerous residents spoke out against outdoor dining, fearing it would bring the party atmosphere of the Plaza onto upper Pier. The committee’s recommendation to the City Council called for a ban on tables on the public sidewalks, and the council unanimously included the table ban in the zoning for upper Pier.

At a later date, in September 2010, Councilman Kit Bobko, the driving force behind the upper Pier makeover, tried to revisit outdoor dining with a proposal to allow it on the avenue, but he was supported only by fellow Councilman Michael DiVirgilio.

Now upper Pier stands all but denuded of tables and chairs. At Crème de la Crepe, two two-person tables remain standing, snug against the building’s front, just off of the city-owned sidewalk. At Java Man coffeehouse, four outdoor tables remain, also sandwiched between the building and the public sidewalk.

Most eateries on upper Pier are built right out to the sidewalk, and have no outdoor setback that would allow tables.

The recently opened Rockefeller maintains outdoor tables on a front patio built within its restaurant footprint, without encroaching upon the sidewalk.

The Hermosa Beach Chamber of Commerce Visitors Bureau heard from one concerned retailer on upper Pier, the owner of a clothing boutique in a large office-and-retail complex on the corner of Pier and Manhattan avenues.

“She was very disappointed because her shop is a little around the corner [along Manhattan Avenue, which sees much less foot traffic than upper Pier],” said Maureen Hunt, the chamber’s acting executive director.

The boutique owner used to display some merchandise on the upper Pier sidewalk, “and she said it really helped to have stuff outside,” Hunt said.

Bryce Toney, owner of the Curious store on upper Pier, said that removing a small hand-made bench or a concrete Buddha from out front is a blow to his business.

“There are articles after articles written about what draws people in. Your storefront is your business. We rely on being able to express ourselves, and it helps make a charming community,” he said. “And we’re a small enough town that we should be able to manage it.”

Toney said his out-front items took up 12 to 18 inches of the sidewalk.

“There’s got to be a way the city can handle this,” he said.

A handful of residents and businesspeople went before the City Council on Tuesday to ask for some compromise in the sweep. Resident Judy Garland said dogs are angry that there is no longer a water dish for them outside Stars Antique Market on upper Pier.

“You’ve got a lot of pissed off dogs around here,” she said.

Mike Molen of Stars told the council that he’s placed benches for customers and passersby outside his store for the past 14 years.

“All we want are benches, the bowl for the dogs, and the American flag,” he said.

Tucker suggested the city could place additional municipal benches on bench-less stretches of upper Pier.

Hermosa Avenue

Along Hermosa Avenue, tables are gone from spots they long held in front of eateries such as Paisano’s Pizza Pasta and Mickey’s Deli.

Paul Mance of Mickey’s, a 58-year-old mainstay on the southern stretch of Hermosa Avenue, was sanguine despite having to remove tables and chairs from the sidewalk out front. He said he did not want to make a big deal of it, but his customers didn’t like it much.

“Our customers are affected by it,” he said.

One Mickey’s customer came through Easy Reader’s front door hopping mad – just barely a figure of speech in this case – to report the table situation “to the complaint department.”

Mance said the timing of the city’s “Clean Sweep” was inconvenient, with summer coming on and customers getting ready to flock in earnest.

Outdoor patio tables remained around the side of Mickey’s, which is out of the public right-of-way.

Kristine Ashley, of the 12-year-old Ashley’s Deli on Hermosa Avenue, said the removal of four round tables and eight chairs from the sidewalk was a blow to her customers.

“The customers are the ones suffering. This is a neighborhood community, and people like to dine outdoors. That’s what the beach is for,” she said.

“This was just really disrespectful to all the businesses out there, who are trying to keep their doors open. I feel cheated, I really do. I feel cheated as a small business owner,” she said.

Ashley said she does not know what is to come. She said she can spend $40 to apply for an encroachment permit allowing sidewalk tables, and then wait 45 days to see whether she would be granted a permit. She said nobody can tell her how much the permit itself would cost, if it is granted.

“It’s all about money for the city, and it’s all about the customers for us,” she said.

Outside Ashley’s, all that remained to sit on were two little narrow benches, stuffed up against the front wall and out of the right-of-way – spots to drink coffee, perhaps, but not to dine.

Safety, lawsuits

Mayor Peter Tucker said it was not immediately clear how many sidewalk tables might be allowed on Hermosa Avenue.

“Those sidewalks aren’t that wide,” he said. “We would have to take a look at it – the Planning Commission and the City Council – it could be a safety issue.”

The City Council launched “Hermosa Clean Sweep” after officials received complaints from people who said they “couldn’t walk down the sidewalks,” said Ken Robertson, director of the city’s Community Development Department.

If city officials are aware of non-permitted tables or other pedestrian obstacles on the sidewalks, and they make no move to clear the obstacles away, the city would be on the hook for potential lawsuits by people claiming injuries, Tucker said.

“It’s our property,” he said. “They would probably go after the business owner too, but we would be the ‘deep pockets’ guy. If we know about it and let it go, it’s worse.”

Tucker also pointed out that residents were promised there would be no outdoor dining on upper Pier in the city-owned right-of-way.

“They didn’t want to create an atmosphere like there is on the Pier Plaza,” he said. “That was the recommendation from UPAC [the upper Pier study committee] and the council said, good — that’s what we’re going to do.”

Tucker said officials tried to enforce the sidewalk table ban on upper Pier before “Clean Sweep,” and tables would be removed temporarily, and then placed back on the sidewalks.

“It was a game of cat and mouse,” he said.

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