Santa Monica is planning to open streets to pedestrians and expand outdoor dining, Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said during a virtual town hall Thursday.
As residents flock to sidewalks and parks for exercise and recreation during the stay-at-home order, Dilg said the city is planning to restrict car traffic on some residential and commercial streets to provide more space for pedestrians and cyclists to practice physical distancing. The city may also allow restaurants to set up outdoor dining areas in the street.
Many residents have for the last two months called on the city to join other cities, including Pasadena, San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco, in setting up a “slow streets” network during the pandemic.
Dilg said Santa Monica could set up a slow streets network in the immediate future.
“We’re looking to see where we can take fast action to open a few streets in that model sometime soon,” she said.
Residents have also said they want to see commercial streets converted for pedestrians in a way similar to the Third Street Promenade, she said.
Dilg said she is open to the idea but the city would have to figure out how to reroute emergency vehicles that travel on commercial corridors.
“That would happen on a slightly longer time frame because we want to make sure we get it right,” she said.
Officials are working on a plan to allow businesses to open outdoor seating areas in the near future, perhaps by expanding the city’s existing parklets program. The city installed three parklets on Main Street four years ago and restaurants across the city were pushing the city to build more before the pandemic.
The city also loosened alcohol regulations for restaurants last week, in part to help restaurants pad their margins with alcohol sales as they reopen.
“We hear your need for more space for your restaurants,” Dilg told restaurateurs who attended the Zoom town hall. “We understand that social distancing requirements make it hard to hit the margins you need to continue operating. We know people want to eat in restaurants and do it safely.”
Dilg said although Los Angeles County is aiming to reopen restaurants, stores and malls by July 4, the county will not reopen until it meets public health metrics that demonstrate the epidemic is under control.
Santa Monica will move into stage three of reopening alongside the rest of the county, she said. The city is working on a phased reopening plan for the Santa Monica Pier and is determining when beach parking lots can be safely reopened — the police department would need to be able to enforce rules against large gatherings on the beach, Dilg added.
“Reopening could come as early as July 4 if everything goes beautifully, but it could be much longer than that,” she said.
Dilg said the region will have a better chance of meeting that target date if people continue to wear masks and practice physical distancing in public.
Last Thursday, Santa Monica started requiring people to wear face coverings whenever they are in public. The order, which aligns with orders issued by Los Angeles County and the city of Los Angeles, mandates that people wear masks even when they are exercising or not close to other people.
Previously, people were only required to wear masks while visiting essential businesses.
Dilg said police officers can cite people for not wearing masks but are focusing on educating them about the new law before resorting to citations.
“We will likely issue some citations, but it’s not realistic for us to issue thousands of citations,” she said.