Carmel Outdoor Dining (copy)

Covid-19 has made many weary after dragging on for more than a year and a half, and that was nowhere more true on Tuesday night during the Carmel City Council meeting. Councilmembers signaled they had had enough, not just of Covid, but also the acrimony over one of the most quintessential symbols of pandemic life: outdoor dining parklets.

Despite being popular among diners, some Carmelites have not been keen on parklets, claiming they don't rise up to Carmel's revered "village character" and eat up too many parking spaces, among other issues. 

The council had originally planned to see parklets dismantled immediately after July 31. When restaurant owners complained, councilmembers agreed to an extension until Sept. 12. That was pre-delta variant.

By September, with delta circulating, owners pushed for an extension to November, claiming their customers were mostly asking to eat outdoors. The council voted 3-2 to allow them to stay until Oct. 12, with an option to extend another 30 days.

The move resulted in three months in a row of caustic debate in council meetings, as restaurant owners kept coming back asking for yet another extension. The council remained split each time, with Mayor Dave Potter and councilmembers Carrie Theis and Bobby Richards voting yes, and Karen Ferlito and Jeff Baron voting no.

It appeared the parklets would be through once and for all in November, but the day before Tuesday's meeting, Monterey County announced its mask mandate had been triggered by a Centers for Disease Control determination that the county was in the "substantial" category for Covid transmission. Masks were about to become mandatory on Nov. 5 inside all public spaces.

"I was hoping this would be the month that we could say goodbye to the parklets and to this situation," said Ferlito, who has been strident in her opposition to parklets all year. "Unfortunately with the mask mandate I think that's not possible."

On the other end of the spectrum, Theis, one of the biggest supporters of the outdoor dining spaces, said she understood everyone's frustration with how parklets look but as a hotel owner she also understood what restaurants are up against.

"From a business standpoint [Covid] is the hardest issue to deal with for such a long period of time," Theis said. "As a businessperson I am absolutely tired. I think a lot of people feel that way."

After some agreement among members that the monthly arguments were frustrating and not helpful to the community, the council came together and voted 5-0 to let parklets stay until at least Jan. 20. The council will discuss the issue again at its January meeting on a date to be determined.

Before the vote, Baron said he supported the idea of letting the parklets stay until January, "simply so we don't have to talk about this in December."

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