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Open Letter on the Streateries

October 15, 2020

To the Costa Mesa Planning Staff, Planning Commissioners, and City Council,

In June of this year, in an effort to help local restaurants stay afloat in the midst of the state’s Safer At Home order, Costa Mesa approved an urgency ordinance allowing dining areas to expand into parking lots, the public right of way, and other underutilized adjacent spaces. Costa Mesa did not do this alone. Cities across the country took this important step to help support their local economy in an uncertain time. What made it significant from our point of view was the fact that it allowed a different use - and a good one - in what was formerly required parking.

Over the last several decades, most U.S. cities have required that businesses maintain on-site parking spaces and access to those spaces despite the fact that there is no solid justification for doing so, nor is there a reliable method for determining how much parking is actually “needed.” This is not a small matter: the requirement to provide on-site parking has a long list of negative effects - to businesses, to consumers, and to the general community. We encourage you to read Dr. Donald Shoup’s summary of the issues that municipal parking requirements create, along with his recommendations for reform.

Now, about four months into this experiment, dozens of “streateries” have popped up across the city, bringing life and activity out into public view, often replacing spaces that had formerly been sterile and bleak. During our recent Reimagine 19th survey, when people were asked what they would like to see on West 19th, many (unprompted) stated that they wanted to see more “outdoor dining.” This is telling - the presence of people dining outside signifies that the area is pleasant, comfortable, and safe. People like being around people.

Unsurprisingly, the loss of required parking spaces in all this has not led to problems. NPR reported last week that cities all over are doing this, and “no one seems to mind.” The question, then, is what our city ought to do in light of this experiment. We strongly believe that the responsible course of action for Costa Mesa, given what we’ve learned, would be to 1) adopt an ordinance to make the provisions of the urgency ordinance permanent (thus allowing “streateries” to remain), and 2) reform our parking ordinance in the general direction of Dr. Shoup’s recommendations. This pandemic has forced us to do some things differently. It is clear that this thing in particular has made our city better. It would be folly to go back.

Costa Mesa Alliance for Better Streets, Board of Directors

CM Streateries
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