People enjoy their meals while they site in the outdoor dinning area of the Crepes restaurants on Third Street Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — By the end of this week, Santa Monica will be operating under a new budget, which was approved last week by the City Council after hours of discussion and wrangling over process.

But, while the fate of a $300,000 council slush fund received two hours of debate, a series of fees for everything from outdoor dining rent increases to the cost of sending out an informational mailer slipped through with nary a word.

The outdoor dining fees, which received a great deal of attention and outcry when the increases first appeared on the council agenda on Feb. 22, will go into effect in 2013.

Restaurants on the Third Street Promenade will see their rates increase either 30 cents per square foot if the area is not enclosed with a fence or other barrier, or $1.23 per square foot if it is partially enclosed with a barrier.

Other restaurants, particularly Il Fornaio and the Ivy on Ocean Avenue, would see a much larger increase to $5.83 per square foot for their fully-enclosed outdoor dining patios.

The move would also legitimize those patios, which are technically in violation of current codes.

One other restaurant, iCugini, would have been affected by the change, but it closed after Father’s Day weekend.

Sam King, the president and CEO of King’s Seafood Company, which owned iCugini, told the Daily Press in February that his restaurant could have seen increases of $30,000 as a result of the new fees.

The average restaurant would experience a rent hike of $314 per month if they have a barrier blocking the public’s view of the dining, and $82 per month if there was no barrier, according to a staff report.

No restaurateurs appeared to protest the fees, which were approved in February but officially became part of the budget last week.

That’s not to say that restaurants aren’t concerned, said Wes Hooker, owner of Laconda del Lago, an Italian restaurant on Third Street Promenade.

“I think that the vitality of Third Street requires a healthy restaurant business to keep the promenade hopping until dinner hours,” Hooker said. “So I would have almost expected the opposite to happen, some sort of aid to the existing restaurant base.”

City Hall is aware of the pressure this could put on the restaurants throughout the city, said Brian Chase, director of government affairs for the Santa Monica Chamber of Commerce.

“This is one of the issues we’re going to watch closely,” Chase said. “There are additional benefits to outdoor dining, like the stewardship of the urban environment.”

The chamber will monitor the temperature of restaurants and report back to City Hall if the increase will have major repercussions on the health of the businesses when 2013 rolls around.

Other businesses will experience differences in how they pay for necessities as well, although those changes take effect almost immediately.

Private parties that pursue projects that require public hearings will have to pay the Planning and Community Development Department a fee of $122 to make sure notice gets out to all residents and businesses within a certain area of the project site.

Applicants used to do the work themselves and just submit mailing labels for the project, but under the new rules, the department will find that information on its own using a municipally-owned computer system, said Interim Planning Director David Martin.

The method ensures that City Hall can have confidence that the right people are getting notified about developments that affect them, Martin said.

“We know, because we’re the ones creating it,” he said. “We have more assurance they’re accurate.”

That change will take effect on the first of the month.

Three other categories of fees either rose or changed to reflect the actual cost of performing the services.

One was newsrack permitting fees, which news outlets pay to have a spot to put newspapers out where people can grab or pay for them.

That fee jumped up from a flat $35 per rack to $155 for the first brand new rack and $85 for each additional new rack, while renewals went to $84 for the first to $43 for each additional one.

The $8 jump isn’t a backbreaker, said T.J. Montemer, publisher of the Santa Monica Mirror, a weekly publication, but the new rack fee may prevent him from expanding into other parts of the city.

Approximately 25 percent of the Mirror’s print run goes onto the racks, Montemer estimated.

“It’s more expensive, but that’s just the times,” Montemer said.

Off-site improvements performed by city crews will also be valued differently, but it’s hard to say whether they will necessarily be more or less expensive.

In the past, work was covered by a fee spelled out in a schedule available at the Planning Department.

Now, jobs like sidewalk removal are spelled out by increment, like square or linear foot, while others like bike rack installation are assessed per job.

According to the staff report, the ultimate goal is to recover the true cost of the tasks, rather than stick with a flat fee.


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