By Gavin J. Quinton
In a special meeting of the Glendale City Council Tuesday, councilmembers endorsed the installation of open-air outdoor dining “parklets” in the downtown Glendale area, but delayed the process, asking staff to bring back a new design.
The dining areas — popular in pedestrian-oriented cities like New York City and San Francisco, and seen throughout Los Angeles — will take up space previously held by metered parking spots directly in front of their respective restaurants.
Dining parklets first came to the city with its Al Fresco Glendale program, part of the temporary COVID-19 response. In a successful effort to jump-start commerce, funding was allocated for parklets, which allowed businesses to operate outdoors while indoor activities were limited. Many restaurants in the Montrose Shopping Park and in Downtown Glendale were empowered to set up dining areas with tables, shade and traffic dividers.
This was accomplished through the use of these parklets in on-street parking spaces, which, at the time, were divided using concrete K-rails. Now, the parklets have been redesigned to be more uniform and “aesthetically pleasing,” according to a written report to the City Council, and the city will place certain limitations on how restaurants can customize the areas.
While the outdoor dining areas initially provided a space for businesses to operate when indoor activity was limited, city staff said in a report that the parklets have evolved into a critical component of the Downtown and Montrose Shopping Park, by “providing vibrancy, and enhancing the pedestrian-oriented nature that has infused new energy into the areas.”
During the pandemic, fees were waived for sidewalk dining permits and the city cut red tape for dining in private parking lots.
“While the direct dollars through grant programs and emergency orders related to eviction moratoriums had direct positive impacts on business operations, the Al Fresco program also provided a direct benefit to patrons and the business district as a whole,” said Director of Community Development Bradley Calvert.
Future parklet installations will require that restaurants pay a monthly fee, which is designed to offset the income the city would ordinarily receive from a metered parking space.
“Though emergency orders related to COVID-19 came to an end on Feb. 28, 2023, the place-making enhancements of the parklets continue,” Calvert said.
The new parklet designs will implement wood-paneled barriers that divide the dining areas from street traffic. They are covered by white and blue awnings and will have a rail divider between the dining area and the sidewalk.
The City Council was split on the design of the parklet spaces. Councilwoman Elen Asatryan suggested greenery to separate restaurant-goers, and endorsed hanging lights.
“I do worry about the amount of metal in the roofs. If there is anything that can be done to make it look a little more inviting, I’d like to see that. I’m sure however they look, they’ll be a significant improvement to the current parklets with the K-rails,” said Mayor Ardy Kassakhian.
Calvert added that, while the design is still subject to change, diner safety from street traffic is still the top priority in considering future designs.
Ultimately, the council chose to delay the approval of the parklet dining areas, requesting that city staff return within the next four weeks with a new design.
First published in the March 11 print issue of the Glendale News-Press.