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Helping Costa Mesa Restaurants

A guide for expanding restaurants using outdoor space during COVID-19



Creative Commons image by LADOT People Street.

The Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets, through its Local Business Recovery Through Active Mobility project, aims to help businesses expand operations into parking spaces and/or sidewalks to facilitate customer distancing while improving accessibility for vulnerable road users.

Why do restaurants need to expand into open spaces?

COVID-19 is much more likely to spread in enclosed spaces. Many restaurants that are reopening have been limited to operating at 25 or 50% of their pre-COVID-19 capacity to maintain social distancing guidelines. This reduction in capacity will make it challenging for small restaurants to operate profitably. Providing additional space for outdoor dining allows restaurants to adapt to physical distancing guidelines while resuming dine-in service.

Are other cities allowing restaurants to expand into public spaces?

Yes. Other cities are leading the response with bold, creative, and rapid steps to reshape their streets, and by using their existing assets differently. Cities around the country have enacted legislation that allow restaurants to temporarily create and expand outdoor seating areas into parking lots, wide sidewalks, street parking spaces, and even lanes of traffic during this critical time of recovery to ensure the long-term success of these local businesses. See what is happening in Los Angeles, San Diego, and the Bay Area, but also Laguna Beach, Laguna Niguel, Newport Beach, Irvine, and Huntington Beach (to name a few).

Is Costa Mesa allowing restaurants to expand into public spaces?

Yes! On Tuesday June 2, the Costa Mesa City Council unanimously passed an urgency ordinance to help local restaurants adapt to the current circumstances by allowing:

  • Expansions into existing outdoor space on private property 

  • Expansion into private parking lots

  • Expansions into wide sidewalks

  • Expansions into on-street parking (“parklets”)

  • Expansions into closed off lanes of traffic

What is a parklet? 

A parklet is an on-street parking space that has been repurposed as an extension of the sidewalk. Planters or other barricades are used to protect parklet users from moving traffic, and outdoor furniture is often added to make the space welcoming and comfortable. They’ve been implemented across the country for years now, and are a perfect response to COVID-19.


Here are a few sample images (all images taken pre-COVID-19; we apologize for the lack of social distancing and masks in the images)


Creative Commons image by Wildmay.

SF_Plannind_Dept-1 -cc.jpg

Creative Commons image by San Francisco Planning Department

LADOT-2 cc.jpg

Creative Commons image by LADOT People Street. 


Creative Commons image by Mark Hogan

What does parking-lot dining look like in other cities?

Parking lot dining is a new phenomenon, so there aren’t a lot pictures of examples out there, but here are a few we’ve found.  We know that some of these are fairly plain; we’re working to create designs that will help you create a space that is functional, cost efficient, and appealing.

Forbici Italian - cnbc.jpg

What might this look like in Costa Mesa?

The drawing below is intended only to illustrate the concept; it is not an actual plan.

A possible vision of what it might look like

What regulations are there for restaurant expansions in Costa Mesa?

See the section below for the city's formal guidance and application forms.  Here's our quick summary:

Outdoor dining expansions on private property will be allowed by right, as long as seating is not placed on landscaped areas in required setbacks from the public right of way.

Expansions into private parking lots will require a temporary use permit, which will be free for the first 30 days and may have a $250 fee implemented after the first 30 days.  The application for this is still being developed, but will likely be only a page or two, and will require drawings of the proposed expansions and a discussion of safety measures being put into place; processing time is anticipated to be a day or two at most.  Placements of temporary tents and awnings must meet building and fire code requirements and will be required to follow the existing processes for such installations.  Crossing of active drive aisles is discouraged, but will be considered on a case by case basis. Use of some of the reallocated space for bicycle parking is allowed.  

Expansions into the public right of way (wide sidewalks, on-street parking, and closed lanes of traffic) will be subject to essentially the same requirements as private parking lots (temporary use permit, drawings required, etc.), but will also be required to get additional approval / review from the city including a temporary encroachment permit.  The city council approved three areas to study for pilot expansions into the public right of way: West 19th west of Pomona, East 18th near Newport Blvd., and Randolph Ave., though other areas will be considered as requested.  

In all locations pedestrian access will be required to be maintained, seating will be restricted to serving the existing on-site restaurants, and the standard city requirements for amplified noise outdoors will apply (i.e., outdoor music / amplified sound will not be allowed without a special permit).  

What are the city's official guidelines and application requirements?


We're happy to assist you as you fill out these forms or help you work on your designs.  If you'd like our help, send us an e-mail at

I’m a restaurant who wants to expand into public spaces, what can CMABS do to help me?

CMABS can do a few things to help:

  1. Help you navigate the city processes required. We've got the application form posted right here on this page (scroll up!), and we'll help you navigate the process as much as we can.  

  2. We have a few designers who are working with us - they can at the least share some templates / ideas, and might even be able to create a rough design for you.  

  3. This is a quickly evolving situation, so  let us know what you need help with, and we'll do our best to help you out.  We’re a small grassroots organization with an even smaller budget, but we have a diverse group of volunteers with a range of skillets and we’ll do our best to help.

Contact us at and let us know what you’re thinking of.

I’m a local designer / maker / volunteer who wants to help a local business expand, what can I do?

Contact us! Include a brief summary of what you can do, and we’ll connect you with a business in need.   Send us an e-mail at:

I might have something I can donate; what materials do you need?

Parklets and parking lot dining typical need:

  • Large planters, crates, or other items that can safely divide dining areas from motor vehicles

  • Portable tables, chairs, and umbrellas

  • Ground coverings (fake grass, etc.)

  • Pallets or other wooden structures to allow a parklet to be at the same level as the curb

  • Potted plants (fake or real) to create an attractive streetscape

  • Traffic cones / barricades

  • Temporary bike racks / bike parking

Contact us at - we’d love any assistance!

I want to spread the word - do you have a flier about Streateries I can print out?

We have two fliers which you're welcome to download, print, email, or otherwise share.  Click the images to download a high-resolution PDF.


How will people get to these streateries?

With parking lots closed or reduced in capacity, more people are going to arrive at these restaurants without their cars. So, CMABS is working to help people walk, bike, or roll safely to local businesses by calming traffic on streets that connect to commercial hubs via temporary soft closures and/or pop-up traffic circles. 

If you’re a local business, please encourage the city to calm the streets around your location so that more people can get to your location safely and comfortably. City Council contact information is here. Or you can easily contact all Council Members by clicking here.

Where can I learn more about this type of thing?


Outdoor dining rendering from NACTO's Streets for Pandemic Response & Recovery.

Streetsblog wrote a great summary of what other cities are doing, and what we’re trying to accomplish in our city.


The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) has recently released a guide on best practices for using street space to help with COVID-19 recovery: Streets for Pandemic Response & Recovery. They recently held a webinar on “streateries,” and our notes from that can be found here.


CalBike has produced a very helpful guide for creating slow streets in your community.


Several people or groups are attempting to document all instances of cities that are taking swift and nimble action to help people get around safely and to help businesses come back to life. Here are running lists from Mike Lydon,, & NACTO.

And lastly, the Tactical Urbanist's Guide to Materials & Design is a great, freely-available, all-around resource for those interesting in inexpensive, quick-build place-making.

What does CMABS want in return?

Nothing: we’re a volunteer-run public charity organized to imagine, inspire, and realize a more humane use of our streets as public spaces. As long as your project helps improve the city streets and makes them better places to spend time in, we’re all on board with helping you.

Clarifying CMABS's role

The Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit public benefit corporation that in no way represents or is affiliated with the City of Costa Mesa. We are a group of residents and community leaders working to create safer streets and a better city for everyone. The purpose of this educational website is to help you and your businesses navigate the complicated realm of new city policies like this one. 


The city’s planning department and its full ordinance should be consulted prior to any action; the draft ordinance can be found at this link (we'll post the final version when we get it).

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