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Pismo Beach restaurants seeking more access to outside dining space

Angel Russell/KCBX
Owners of restaurants like the Shell Beach Brewhouse (shown here across Shell Beach Road) are asking city hall to allow more parklets.

In an effort to help restaurants stay open during the COVID-19 shutdowns, cities across the Central Coast are allowing restaurants to set up tables outdoors on sidewalks, parking lots and in parklets. Some places—like San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara—are shutting down streets for eateries to expand and use for seating.

But business owners in Pismo Beach say they can’t get the city to budge on similar expansion requests.

Billy Hales is part owner of 14 restaurants and bars throughout San Luis Obispo County, and said he has been able to use parklets for his restaurants in Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo. But the city of Pismo Beach isn't letting him expand outdoor seating for his business, the Shell Beach Brewhouse.

“It’s just so disappointing that the city is not embracing us right now for something that is so simple,” Hales said.

The brew pub has a small patio that can seat about 15 guests. But Hales says he can’t keep all of his staff employed unless he is able to seat more people. He wants the city to allow him to use the four parking spots in front of his business for an outdoor seating area.

“It’s not a big profit grab,” Hales said. “It's like, let's keep the doors open. Let's keep these people who are going to be losing their $600 a week bonus, let's keep them employed.”

Some restaurants in Pismo Beach have large patios or a parking lot to use for tables, but others only have indoor dining and have been forced to close their doors under the state’s most recent public health mandates.

Brittney Costa, with a coffee and candy shop in downtown Pismo Beach, said she thinks too many businesses are unnecessarily closed and that the city should allow businesses like hers to use the street to set up tables.

“Everyone is trying to make a living,” Costa said.

Jorge Garcia is with the city of Pismo Beach. He said businesses are allowed to use their private parking lots for extra seating, but that allowing seating outdoors on the street could create traffic complications.

“We don’t have multiple access points, the entrances and side alleys like neighboring communities have,” Garcia said. “For the most part, Shell Beach road is one way in and one way out. Our downtown is very similar; there really is not a lot of routing options in order to maintain circulation and have a safe environment for that to occur.”

Some restaurant owners in Pismo Beach are talking about holding a sidewalk table protest, but Garcia said the city is now working with several owners to help find solutions for keeping restaurants open and serving.

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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