MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — Manhattan Beach is trying on something a bit different, starting with this Valentine's Day and President's Day weekend: closing down a block of its downtown neighborhood for public outdoor dining.
The closure of Manhattan Avenue, between Manhattan Beach Boulevard and 12th Street, began on Friday, with no specified end date. Instead of traffic, outdoor seating is available in the public right-of-way for restaurants and residents to use.
Manhattan Beach Mayor Suzanne Hadley called the temporary closure an "additional measure" to boost business on a block with quite a few restaurants but very little street parking that can be repurposed as outdoor dining-serving parkettes.
"It seems like an ideal one-block experiment for one weekend to see how it goes and provide some additional seating, open to all restaurants and residents," Hadley said.
The stretch of road is also comparatively ideal for a closed-street and outdoor seating — many streets in downtown Manhattan Beach slope downward to the sea or incline as one heads north. Manhattan Avenue is relatively level.
As of Friday afternoon, the block is closed, and pedestrians were taking advantage of the seating space. Trees line the perimeter, providing a buffer between traffic and the seating areas, and Hadley said the area would be beautifully lit for the romantic holiday weekend.
A city subcommittee will meet on Tuesday to review the impacts of the street closure and determine the next steps.
Manhattan Beach has considered a closure for as long as the pandemic has rocked restaurants — last summer, the city considered following the example of neighboring El Segundo with a street closure that offered seating for restaurants.
Instead, the city converted downtown street parking into "parkettes," working with restauranteurs to develop raised, protected outdoor dining platforms.
Then, last December, Hadley and Manhattan Beach attempted to challenge Los Angeles County's closure of outdoor dining by calling its parkettes "outdoor seating." (The "end-around," as one restauranteur called it, didn't take. On January 3, the city removed the seating amid regional COVID-19 surges.)
Now restaurants and cities are working with the L.A. County Department of Public Health's latest list of protocols for operation. Those requirements include face-covering requirements at all times except when food has arrived; only single-household parties may be served, and tables must be spaced at least 8 feet apart.
Hadley said that the city will be enforcing social distancing and is confident that they can "keep residents and visitors safe" while making sure the businesses have profitable weekends.
"The block is special looking," Hadley said. "The trees, the lights…downtown Manhattan Beach will have its best face on for the romantic holiday."