Representative Linda Sánchez and others push to keep restaurant expansions inspired by pandemic – Orange County Register


La Palma Isla Cuban-Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar restaurant was only open seven months last spring when the coronavirus pandemic closed it.

When alfresco dining was allowed to return, owner Mauricio Diaz pitched a tent in part of the parking lot to add 100 spaces to his existing 40-seat patio – a move that saved the business.

“It was a lifeline,” Diaz said on Monday. “We wouldn’t be here, open, if it weren’t for the use of this outdoor dining area.

But in June, when the state lifted indoor dining capacity limits, Diaz received a letter from his owner telling him he could no longer use the temporary outdoor food court. Diaz called the request “unfair” because he said his mall’s large parking lot was never full, even though Isla’s dining tent took up space. And with some customers telling Diaz they still aren’t comfortable eating inside, he turned to Representative Linda Sánchez, D-Whitter, whose 38th arrondissement includes La Palma, for help.

Inspired by Diaz’s predicament, Sanchez and Minnesota Rep. Angie Craig are leading 18 of their fellow House Democrats in a bid to encourage states and cities to let restaurants keep outdoor seating in them. parking lots, sidewalks and streets “for the duration of the pandemic”.

To that end, Sanchez and the others sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen seeking to tie such restaurant extensions to a state or city’s eligibility to receive local tax recovery funds and to State of the Coronavirus, a $ 350 billion prize pool created in March when Congress passed the US bailout. The Treasury is reviewing comments on this program until the fall before issuing a final rule.

“With some indoor seating still limited and many people choosing to only eat out, the ability to use outdoor spaces for dining literally keeps restaurants open, Sánchez said.

The restaurant industry employs more than 15 million people nationwide, notes the letter, which was also signed by Southern California officials Alan Lowenthal, Ted Lieu and Judy Chu. But more than 90,000 restaurants have closed during the pandemic and tens of thousands have downsized their operations.

“As these restaurants strive to get back on track, it is imperative that they have access to this additional space,” said Sánchez.

Unlike a related state law signed last month by Governor Gavin Newsom, the October 20 letter to Yellen does not include a timeframe or health threshold that would define the end of the pandemic.

Assembly Bill 61, MP Jesse Gabriel, D-Encino, allows restaurants to continue to use temporary dining rooms for up to a year after the governor declares the pandemic end as long as the restaurant applied for a permit to permanently expand its footprint.

The California League of Cities supported this bill. But spokeswoman Kayla Woods said Monday that the organization had yet to consider the federal request made to Yellen.

The plan to tie federal aid funding to support for outdoor dining options quickly attracted support from coalitions supporting the restaurant industry.

“The data shows that people are reluctant to eat out, especially indoors,” said Erika Polmar, executive director of the Independent Restaurant Coalition. “Al fresco dining has been a lifeline for neighborhood restaurants and now is not the time to take it away.”

Diaz also applauded the request and thanked Sánchez for taking action after hearing his story.

After a successful opening in August 2019, Diaz said Isla Cuban-Latin Kitchen & Rum Bar was so busy in its first few months that when the pandemic hit they didn’t have time to set up operations. delivery with third-party providers like Postmates or Uber Mange. In the first month of the spring 2020 shutdown, the restaurant only sold $ 2,000 in take-out, Diaz said, forcing him to fire all but two of the staff and burn all the profits that the restaurant had achieved since it opened.

Diaz received a loan from the Paycheck Protection Program and local grants that helped pay for equipment needed for outdoor dining, such as a tent and heaters. But now he said they had that equipment left and that demand for expanded outdoor space, but nowhere to put customers. The extra seats, he said, could help him recover from the past 20 tumultuous months.

“Being able to use this space again will be huge for us,” said Diaz.

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