Long hailed as a pandemic silver lining, Santa Monica’s popular parklet outdoor dining spaces will now become a permanent feature of the city.

In a June 28 meeting, City Council approved a program establishing standards and fees for businesses to utilize parking spaces for outdoor dining and other commercial activities. 

The outdoor spaces have been offered free of charge on a pilot basis since summer 2020. Parklets have been credited with keeping many businesses afloat while indoor operations were limited for months on end, and played an especially important role in attracting foot traffic to key commercial corridors including Main Street and Montana Ave. 

“The outdoor business permit program has been a lifeline for so many businesses during the pandemic. It has kept customers served, workers employed, and tax revenue flowing into the city. As we transition into a post-pandemic, new normal, many businesses, customers, and residents alike find that doing business outdoors—in our sunny, temperate, beachfront community—is pleasant as well as safe,” wrote Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Judy Kruger and Board Chair Michael Ricks in a statement on behalf the chamber, which represents 600 local businesses.

There are currently around 90 businesses utilizing parklet spaces, and staff estimate around 54 businesses will opt to participate in the paid program, which begins on Oct. 1. 

Part of the reason some businesses may opt out of the paid program is the associated costs, which as City Councilmembers noted during their discussion of the program, are not insignificant.

The base fee to rent a parking space will be $339.20 per month, which translates into a $4,070 yearly fee. Businesses may rent up to two parking spaces, which would cost $8,140 annually. 

In addition there are several one-time costs businesses must pay to obtain a two-year parklet permit. This includes reviews to ensure that parklets are safe from traffic, accessible to all residents, insured, alcohol code compliant, fire code compliant and not disruptive to the public right of way. The base fee for these reviews is $492, with an additional $456 review fee if parklets will offer alcohol, and $186 review fee if parklets will have heat lamps.

There is also a $3,500 refundable security deposit as well as one-time City and County charges for wastewater processing. Wastewater fees are required to offset the cost of processing restaurants’ wastewater, which have high quantities of organic matter.

The Santa Monica wastewater fees are a one-time charge of around $1,000 per seat for a full service restaurant and $900 per seat for a fastfood restaurant. There is an additional fee of around $300 per seat paid to LA County. 

Restaurants can lower their parklet fees by only renting one space, adding fewer seats, or transferring existing indoor seats outside. This last option would remove the need to pay additional wastewater fees as restaurants would have already paid the one-time cost for their indoor seats. 

“I’m just concerned as we’re still continuing to recover economically, just making sure that we continue to be mindful of what we’re charging our small businesses,” said Councilmember Christine Parra, later adding, “[for] some businesses this may be a drop in the bucket, you know, but for other businesses where they want to be able to have this experience and to be able to offer this experience, it may not be a drop in the bucket.”

Councilmember Phil Brock said he was also concerned about the cost to businesses and asked if it was possible to extend the timeline for businesses to pay all the related fees.

Councilmember Gleam Davis was sympathetic to these points but explained that charging these fees is necessary to cover the additional cost to the City of hiring an inspector to oversee the parklet permitting process. 

“I talked to many businesses on Main Street, none of them objected to the fees. Nobody came  down here tonight to object to the fees… if someone is so put off by the fees they can just revert back to normal sidewalk dining or they can do one parking space not two,” said Davis.

Council then unanimously voted to approve the parklet program and fee schedule, with an amendment made by Davis that asks staff to return with a review of the program and its fees in February. 

With the parklet program established, staff will now be turning their attention to the temporary use of private outdoor space for commercial activity such as the expanded outdoor dining areas on the Promenade. In the coming months, they will return to Council with recommendations to make uses of both types of outdoor spaces permanent.