By Catherine Saillan, LA Times, November 6, 2013
Los Angeles City Council members agreed Wednesday to dramatically cut the cost and speed up processing of sidewalk dining permits in the reawakening downtown core.
Under a pilot program that was unanimously approved by the council, restaurant owners will pay about $577 for a sidewalk dining permit, compared to the typical $2,000 charged for city workers to process the paperwork.
And instead of taking up to a year to obtain a permit, the wait should be just a few weeks, officials said.
The pilot program is limited to restaurants between First and Seventh streets, and Broadway and Los Angeles Street in the Historic Core. If the model proves successful, it could be expanded to other areas, said Councilman Jose Huizar, who authored the legislation and represents the area.
As new restaurants and cafes pop up in the downtown area almost weekly, sidewalk dining has become an attractive option that brings energy and life to the streets, Huizar said.
But downtown business owners are frustrated by how long it takes to obtain a permit to legally place tables, fences, landscaping and umbrellas in the public right-of-way, he said. In March, a flurry of citations for unpermitted street furniture brought howls of protest from cafe owners.
In a report to the council, City Engineer Gary Lee Moore said the city is six weeks behind on processing permits and could cut the backlog in half if another engineering associate is hired to review paperwork.
Under the changes approved Wednesday, the city will no longer require a visual inspection, relying instead on an applicant’s photographs and proposed drawings. Permit costs drop dramatically because staff time per applicant is shorter, Moore said.
Blair Besten, executive director of the Historic Core Business Improvement District, thanked the council for approving the pilot program. Downtown is not only a growing residential and retail center, she said, but increasingly a tourist destination.
“There’s no doubt that the sidewalk seating, planters and cafes are setting that atmosphere,” she said.
A similar proposal by Councilman Gil Cedillo, covering portions of Figueroa Avenue and the Wilshire Corridor, is still being reviewed in council committees.