A group of early parklet adopters were given the green light to keep or expand oversized outdoor dining zones at the Feb. 14 Council meeting, but only with the permission of neighborhing businesses and proof of insurance.

The City Council voted six-to-one to increase the number of parking or loading spaces for businesses in Santa Monica from two to four spaces for up to 11 businesses that had large parkletts during the City’s previous pilot program. Personal guarantees will no longer be required for parklet operators that instead elect to provide evidence of insurance that covers claims filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act but any proposed parklet that will encroach on the frontage of a neighborhing business is still required to get consent from the impacted neighbors.

The Santa Monica Municipal Code currently defines a parklet as the use of public parking or loading space (other than accessible parking spaces) located in the public right-of-way that are adjacent to each other and at least one of which is adjacent to the eligible business for business activities.

The outdoor spaces had 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.

Following the two-year pilot program for parklets on public streets that was implemented to support local businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic, the City adopted the permanent Parklet Program in June, 2022, for spaces on public streets. The permanent rules downsized parklets to a maximum of two spaces but a revision was requested to accommodate businesses who invested in the then legal four-spot parklets during the pilot program.

The exemption was granted Tuesday night with a provision that allows the larger spaces to be transferred to new owners if the business is sold. However, if the business closes and there’s a lapse in ownership, the right to a four-space parklet would end and be unavailable to a new operator.

Councilmember Jesse Zwick questioned why the rules would only apply to the lucky eleven.

“I’m sympathetic to doing everything possible to help small businesses recover and preserve the parklets – I like them. I think they contribute to the vitality of our streets. I want as many as possible in our city. But … I noticed that this option to go up to four would only be available to restaurants that had prior participated in the pilot,” he said. “I’m just hoping that we can achieve this goal with a maximum degree of fairness.”

Zwick, who joined the council after much of the parklet discussion had already occurred, was told that administration of large spaces was difficult and the decision to grandfather in the original group was an attempt to be fair to businesses who had already invested without codifying a system that would ultimately create too many problems for staff.

The agreed-upon changes also mean that the City Council no longer sets the security deposit for parklets, instead that will now be set by the Director of Public Works, currently Rick Valte. According to Isabel Trevino, Housing Specialist at City of Santa Monica, this allows the Director flexibility to update the security deposit and removes the need for city staff to update the deposits every year, “thus making it consistent with how most of our other ordinances read.” Those fees are designed to recover costs, they will be tied to a labor index that accounts for the amount of time required to take down or maintain a parklet by city staff if it were to be abandoned by the business.

While the revised ordinance applies to 11 businesses who are grandfathered in, there’s only one that currently makes use of an oversized parklett and Councilwoman Caroline Torosis said altering policy for a single business was not a precedent she wanted to support.

“I appreciate what we’re trying to do here,” Torosis said. “I want to be pro-business, I also want to be pro-equity and pro-parklet and I think that just as a matter of principle, I’m not into spot-zoning to help one specific business when we’ve had a process in place, unfortunately, since before I got here, and I know that there’s reasons why we’ve gotten to this point, but just on principle, I voted no.”

Scott Snowden

Scott Snowden started with the SMDP in 2023 with a long list of journalistic experience. He has written local and international investigative work in Forbes, The Sunday Times, The Financial Times, The...