After Pushback, LA Revises “Al Fresco” Dining Ordinance to Lower Cost and Streamline Approval Process
After Pushback, LA Revises “Al Fresco” Dining Ordinance to Lower Cost and Streamline Approval Process

On April 7, 2023, the City of Los Angeles (the “City”) released a revised “LA Al Fresco Ordinance,” to govern outdoor dining.  The City had previously released a February 2023 proposed ordinance that was met with intense opposition from restaurant owners and community members.

“LA Al Fresco” is a popular outdoor dining program that began in May 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic in an effort to help restaurant owners use more space for outdoor dining without having to go through a prolonged approval process.  Through the program, restaurants and bars could apply to expand dining areas into the street, sidewalk, and private lots adjacent to their location.  Because the program was intended to be a temporary emergency program, the City Council and City Planning Commission suggested the need for a new, permanent ordinance to govern outdoor dining permits.

The original ordinance proposed in February 2023 was met with strong opposition from restaurants concerned that the cumbersome new requirements would make using the program unreasonably expensive.  The February ordinance would have increased the price of applying for an “Al Fresco” permit from $0 to up to $20,000.  It also included a cumbersome approval process.  Restaurant owners referred to the February proposal as a “sucker punch” and the Los Angeles Times noted that the ordinance as written could “doom outdoor dining” in the City.

The revised April 2023 proposed ordinance keeps the cost of the program at $0 for businesses that already have an Al Fresco program.  Restaurants that are newly applying for a permit will pay $400 to have their application processed.  This is a fraction of the cost of the $4,000 to $20,000 in fees outlined in the original proposed ordinance.

The City’s fact sheet on the revised Al Fresco ordinance describes the program components as follows:

  • Allows outdoor dining where restaurants are permitted without requiring Planning approval, so applicants can go straight to Building and Safety for permits;
  • Removes zoning limitations that restrict the amount of square footage a restaurant could devote to seating patrons outdoors on private property, giving restaurants the greatest amount of flexibility in terms of serving capacity;
  • Allows restaurant operators to repurpose any amount of parking spaces for outdoor dining, matching the current temporary approach to outdoor dining, removing physical limitations, and encouraging outdoor dining;
  • Rescinds existing zoning rules that limit outdoor dining to the ground floor only, allowing outdoor dining in courtyards, patios, plazas, balconies, and other private property spaces to adapt outdoor dining to the variety of site configurations found throughout the City;
  • Allows restaurants which meet the eligibility criteria to serve alcohol in outdoor dining areas through a streamlined administrative verification or clearance, in lieu of a costly and lengthy discretionary review process; and
  • Establishes that the Al Fresco Ordinance permissions supersede conflicting provisions of any Specific Plan, Supplemental Use District or other overlay, to allow for consistent outdoor dining standards citywide.

The City also released a chart comparing the temporary program, the initial draft permanent program, and the revised draft permanent program.

The City is continuing to accept public feedback on the revised proposed ordinance. The revised ordinance will be presented to the City Planning Commission at an April 27, 2023 hearing, and would then be presented to the City Council for approval.


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