Redondo Beach Council plans permanent parklets in Riviera Village, pending coastal okay

Ermina Van Zitter and Brandy Rosic enjoy Rebel Republic’s $5 Wednesday burgers. They said they hope the dining parklets are permanent. Photo by Kevin Cody

by Rachel Reeves

The old adage about crises sowing opportunities rang true in the Riviera Village last year. When the coronavirus pandemic forced restaurants to close their doors, the city’s leaders and staff collaborated with the Riviera Village Association (RVA) to design “parklets,” or outdoor dining spaces, in what had been parking spots. The parklets have proven so popular and injected so much life into the Riviera Village that now the mayor, council, and RVA are working on making the arrangement, scheduled to end in December of 2021, permanent. 

“The temporary program really revitalized the village,” said Councilmember Nils Nehrenheim, whose district includes the Riviera Village. “Everyone loves the parklets. It’s brought a whole new vibrance to the village.”

“Going through the village, it’s a whole different experience than it was before COVID,” RVA president Jeff Ginsburg added. “This is one of the only things that makes you go, thank you, COVID. It’s been a blessing in disguise with regards to this arrangement, which we would probably never have been able to get approved before.”

Ginsburg said that for some retailers, business has never been better. The arrangement did not translate into a loss of meter fees for the city, either. Despite eliminating dozens of parking meters, the city’s meter-related revenue was up for 2020, registering at $2.3 million. 

“The parking meter revenue is up for a couple of reasons,” Nehrenheim explained. “One is people flocked to the beaches because they had nowhere else to go, and two, we installed electronic parking meters so you have a minimum charge on there and when people do a credit card transaction, they end up spending more money, so there’s a dual positive there.” 

The primary hurdle for making the outdoor dining arrangement permanent is getting approval from the California Coastal Commission, which has requirements for public beach access. A city must maintain a certain number of beach-adjacent parking spaces. There is, however, precedent for approval of plans that swap parking spaces for more bike racks and ride-sharing access.

“The Coastal Commission is very, very particular about beach access,” Ginsburg said. “But the Coastal Commission was developed in the seventies, and that was before people really rode a lot of bikes — everyone was into cars back then. Today, there’s a huge amount of people getting to and from the beach on bicycles and the other thing people are doing is Lyft and Uber, which did not exist in the seventies, so we’re talking about adding a rideshare pick-up/drop-off zone, too.”

Currently the RVA is working with the city council and staff on a CAD drawing of the village, adding parklets, bicycle parking, and a ride-sharing pick-up/drop-off area near the kiosk on Vista del Mar.

“We’re working to come up with a plan that’s fair and equitable to all of the restaurateurs and retailers, as well as the professional services down there,” Nehrenheim said. “Mayor Brand has already talked to the Coastal Commission and we plan on having a discussion later on in summer or early fall to make them permanent.”

Nehrenheim said he and his colleagues are working closely with their counterparts in Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach to present to the Coastal Commission as a united front.

“We’re not in a different boat from any other city, so they realize this is something everyone wants,” Nehrenheim said. “We’re going to be working with Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach so we come together as a team and say, this is what we want as the Beach Cities. That’s easier to push through.”

“The Coastal Commission could still say no,” Ginsburg added. “We figure it increases our chances of getting approval if we have a plan in place. Hopefully they look at it and go, this is great.”

Private businesses that convert their private parking lots into outdoor dining or retail spaces are also responsible for adhering to the city permitting process and abiding by the Coastal Commission’s rules. What is clear for everyone involved in these discussions, from restaurateurs to the city council, is that the parklets and the lessons derived from them constitute a silver lining in a difficult year.

“When we invest in our businesses like we did for the Riviera Village during the pandemic, we see a return on investment, and that’s really key for us to remember moving forward,” Nehrenheim said. ER



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