Carmel Outdoor Dining (copy) (copy)

While other California cities are embracing one of the biggest trends of the Covid-19 pandemic, outdoor dining parklets, tiny Carmel-by-the-Sea has been struggling with the concept for at least a year, with numerous attempts to remove temporary parklets from the village’s parking spots and sidewalks. Each time, restaurant owners have successfully made the case to keep them, but not without acrimony from residents who say the parklets make the village look shabby.

The last attempt to end them in the fall resulted in a weary Carmel City Council agreeing to leave the parklets in place until Jan. 20. It gave the restaurants a chance to keep the outdoor dining option open to holiday patrons who asked for it and gave the council a break from bringing back the issue to be argued month after month. According to Community Development Director Brandon Swanson, 25 parklets remain open, with one removed by an owner.

Now it appears the temporary parklets may actually come to an end after the council voted on Tuesday, Jan. 4, to extend them another 90 days before a “hard stop” on April 20. The vote was 3-2, with councilmembers Jeff Baron and Karen Ferlito voting “no.”

Mayor Dave Potter suggested the deadline but added he wanted to hurry along work started by the council’s Outdoor Seating Ad Hoc Committee last year to find a permanent solution. The work of the committee, which includes Potter and Councilmember Bobby Richards, included a survey which showed a majority of residents and others in favor of some form of permanent outdoor seating.

The council was unanimous in supporting a motion to move toward a permanent solution. The 5-0 vote directed staff to bring back in February data from the survey so the council could discuss parameters for a program before sending the issue to the Carmel Planning Commission for discussion.

A few residents on Tuesday urged the council to end the parklets on Jan. 20, arguing that they take up too many parking spaces and too much space on sidewalks. Mostly they said they were unsightly and complained that restaurant owners weren’t keeping them clean and well maintained. One resident said she saw cigarette butts littering a parklet on one of her morning walks.

Ferlito, a staunch opponent of the parklets who wanted them shut down sooner, said the parklets create an atmosphere in the village more like “Fisherman’s Wharf or Cannery Row.” She suggested with Covid on the rise due to the omicron variant that it “may be time for people to stay home” and said that there were already restaurants with private outdoor dining areas so people who were demanding to eat outside could go to those.

Later, Potter bristled at the idea of telling restaurant owners without their own outdoor dining spaces that they could not have parklets in the coming months. “I don’t want to put people out of business,” he said.

Restaurant owners and wine room operators reported that their customers are still asking to be seated outdoors, even in winter. “I cannot tell you how many people have come down from the Bay Area, so excited to come to my little restaurant and have walked out, in some cases cursing at me, because I couldn’t accommodate an outdoor table for them,” said Stationaery owner Anthony Carnazzo. “I’m not the only one. It’s sad, it’s frustrating. It doesn’t feel good as a hospitality professional to disappoint someone.”

Carnazzo and another owner, Ken Spilfogel, agreed that the few restaurants not properly maintaining their parklets should do so. “Some of the problems you have with a few of the parklets might be accurate, maybe we can help with that situation,” Spilfogel said. As far as long term, Spilfogel was open to a compromise of an end date or “exit strategy” for the temporary parklets, but encouraged the council to seek a permanent solution. “Let’s talk about how it can still work,” he said.

The vote to end the temporary parklets came with an additional direction to staff to crack down on those restaurants that are not properly maintaining their parklets. Swanson said the staff will use a “three strikes” method. Those restaurants that do not comply will be required to dismantle their parklets and if they refuse, the city will remove them and charge the business for removal costs.

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