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City backs off from outdoor dining fee increase

Will reassess huge hike covering permits for sidewalk dining

restaurateurs express relief.

November 18, 2011|By Mark Kellam, mark.kellam@latimes.com
  • Outdoor dining at Leon Cafe & Bakery in Glendale on Thursday, June 2, 2011. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)
Outdoor dining at Leon Cafe & Bakery in Glendale on…

Glendale is reconsidering a steep permit fee increase for sidewalk dining areas after City Council members said they were unaware it would be applied across the board, regardless of the number of outdoor tables covered by each permit.

Earlier this year, the council approved raising the annual fee from $50 to $650 — a major hit to small restaurants that have just a couple sidewalk tables.

“To me, that’s the flaw,” said Mayor Laura Friedman at the City Council meeting on Tuesday. She called on city officials to review the fee, suggesting a graduated structure based on the number of tables.

Restaurant owners in Burbank pay $150 a year for an outdoor dining permit. Pasadena charges a flat fee, plus a rate based on square footage.

After the meeting, Public Works Director Stephen Zurn said his staff will bring a variety of options back to the council. Fees may be based on the number of tables or amount of square footage, he said.

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The higher fee may be introduced incrementally over a few years so restaurant owners aren’t hit with a big increase all at once, Zurn added.

For restaurateurs like Sarah Lee, owner of Da Juice Bar on Brand Boulevard, which has only three tables outside, the review at City Hall was welcome news.

“That would be more fair,” Lee said.

The sidewalk dining permit fee increase was part of a bundle of proposed city fee increases, which Friedman and Councilman Dave Weaver said proved to be overwhelming when trying to get details about each fee.

“When you’re dealing with a stack [of fees], you can’t be right or perfect on each one,” Weaver said. “So you go back and fix it.”

Friedman said she didn’t recall being told that the sidewalk dining fee hike would be applied across the board.

“If I had known that, we would have definitely discussed it at the time,” she said.

Jason Lee, manager of Panera Bread on Brand, which has six tables on the sidewalk, said the $650-fee is difficult for some restaurant owners to pay.

“Especially if you’re a smaller, independently-owned operation, that’s a lot of money you’re talking about,” he said.

Betty Porto, whose Porto’s Bakery & Café has one of the largest outdoor seating areas along Brand, said she would support charging restaurants with smaller seating areas smaller fees, as long as the city accepts that such a fee schedule will generate less revenue.

“If they want to give them a break because it helps their business, then they should,” she said, adding that her business pays for two outdoor dining permits a year — one for the bakery and the other for the adjacent café.

While city employees work on a new fee structure, all permit renewals are on hold, Zurn said. Instead of renewal reminders, restaurants will receive a notice that their permit is still in effect — even after the expiration date — because the city is re-examining the fee.

Restaurateurs will be notified when the City Council plans to discuss the new fee schedule so they can comment, Zurn said. Once a new fee arrangement is approved, restaurant owners will be notified how much they owe.

 
 

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