Temporary outdoor dining set to end with 100% indoor occupancy at restaurants

Jo and Larry Wertz enjoy a lunch at the outdoor dining area of Old Town Junction in Newhall Monday afternoon. November 23, 2020. Bobby Block / The Signal.

Temporary outdoor dining at Santa Clarita restaurants, set up during the pandemic, may be coming to an end this month, pending new state health orders and their impact on indoor seating capacity.  

Last June, the Santa Clarita City Council created the Eat Local program to issue free temporary use permits allowing restaurants to convert parking lots, street parking and sidewalks into socially distanced outdoor seating, said Jason Crawford, the city’s planning manager. 

“We started the program to help the restaurants when they were not allowed to have any occupancy inside, or when they were able to only have limited occupancy,” said Crawford. 

He said it was important to the city to help restaurants and the community, which wanted to experience some normalcy through eating out. 

“The intent was that we would continue to allow that expansion into the parking spaces and the sidewalks until full occupancy indoors was allowed again,” Crawford said, noting that the temporary use permits contain language to that effect. 

State health orders expected to be released by Gov. Gavin Newsom prior to June 15 will determine whether temporary outdoor dining can continue past that date in Santa Clarita. 

“Right now, we’re just waiting to see what orders come down and if they really allow full occupancy in a couple of weeks, or if it’s still limited and the program continues indefinitely,” he said. 

Supporters, opponents 

The city has heard from both supporters and opponents of the temporary outdoor dining setups. Businesses neighboring restaurants have complained about blocked signage and lost parking, according to Crawford. 

“It’s been this balancing of trying to be supportive of all of the businesses, the restaurants and the other businesses,” he said, noting many restaurants on Main Street in Newhall have been asking the city for more information about the changes expected June 15. 

Cherie McGraham, who owns Smokehouse on Main in Newhall, said the temporary outdoor seating has been important for her restaurant. 

“There are still many, many people that are coming in that are concerned about being inside,” McGraham said, calling the city’s position unfair. “It’s not just recouping my losses. It’s preventing me from further loss.” 

McGraham also owns a restaurant in the city of Los Angeles, where she said she’s been allowed to continue serving on the sidewalk in front that establishment. 

“People have been locked up for a year (and) people want to be outside, they just do,” she said, noting she’s invested $14,000 into her outdoor dining setup. “They’re conditioned to sit outside at a restaurant now.” 

McGraham said she plans to organize Main Street restaurants to gather on Monday at 6 p.m. to make their voices heard. 

They’re gathering, she said, “so that the city sees that this is a really huge outcry of wanting to be able to preserve (outdoor dining), at least at this point.” 

Down the street from Smokehouse on Main, Ben Law co-owns Brewery Draconum, which has also created a temporary outdoor dining space.  

“Losing the front, which people have started to grow accustomed to and appreciate and request, would be detrimental to our business not only in just losing (customers), but losing the ability to kind of give people what they’ve come to want and expect,” Law said. 

Crawford said that extending the city’s program, if the state’s health order allows for 100% indoor occupancy, would require action by the Santa Clarita City Council. 

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