If you love dining at food halls or ordering cocktails to go, you’re in luck. The City of Santa Monica has formally amended local regulations to allow these and other pandemic-era zoning changes to remain in effect long-term.
The move comes days after the city caused a stir earlier this month when businesses were told they would have to start phasing in new, permanent parklet programs (including fees and permit requirements) or close their lucrative outdoor areas. In response, about 70 companies chose to begin the process of making their temporary parklets permanent.
The postponement of parklets rules and other zoning ordinance changes signal a citywide push to codify zoning changes that allow parklets and other pandemic-era business rules to remain in effect permanently. That means many of the temporary changes rushed into being in the early days of COVID-19 are allowed to remain in place, including relaxed alcohol serving and parking requirements, the removal of per-block restaurant caps on Main Street, and multiple-use enable food halls on Third Street Promenade and more.
The changes are intended to “support the goals of creating a more vibrant experience through more opportunities for nightlife, entertainment and flexibility to experiment with different uses,” according to a city spokesman.
Not all code changes are as noticeable as allowing cocktails on take-out menus, but city officials are hoping the changes will help businesses continue to recover from the COVID downturn.
An example is the removal of the one-year waiver period for a legal, non-compliant restaurant or retail use. Suppose you want to open a sushi restaurant in what used to be a sushi restaurant that closed six months ago – you could open a business there without much difficulty. However, if it had been a year or more, previous rules would have required you to start from scratch and tick off a long list of permits before you could be cleared to open, including the possibility of public hearings if you request derogations like minimum parking spaces.
The new rules remove the one-year limit.
“This eliminates the one-year surrender period currently provided for in the Code, and also allows these types of uses and businesses to reoccupy vacated rental space of the same use, regardless of how long it has been vacant, provided there is no other use this has occupied vacancy since restaurant or retail,” Assistant Planner Steve Mizokami said during the Santa Monica City Council meeting Tuesday, Oct. 11. “This essentially eliminates the need for new land use rights or to meet parking requirements for essentially the same use as the previous one.”
On the subject of parking, another citywide rule change increases the “parking easement on usage change from 3 spaces to 10 spaces,” meaning that if you rent a space with permits for four spaces, but your new business would need nine to meet the code, The city would still allow you to open it up, as the “repurposing” requires less than 10 additional spaces. Open spaces are now also excluded from the parking space calculation in the event of a change in use.
Reduced restaurant size restrictions include the addition of multi-tenant food halls as conditional uses and restaurants up to 5,000 square feet in size as conditional uses. The rules now also allow the operation of food halls on the boardwalk as well as light industry.
Regarding alcohol regulations, service hours have been expanded and are now 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week citywide; Restrictions on televisions and video projectors have been lifted, as has the cap on alcohol sales, which account for 35% of gross receipts. The delivery and carry-out of alcohol is now permanently codified citywide.