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Council Relaxes Business Requirements to Boost Economic Recovery
 

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By Jorge Casuso

May 14, 2020 -- The City Council on Tuesday made it easier for small local businesses to open and reopen in Santa Monica's business districts after the coronavirus shutdown by loosening requirements.

The two Interim Zoning Ordinances approved by the Council unanimously relax alcohol service requirements, lower parking requirements and make it easier for vacated retail and restaurant spaces to retain their uses.

“We’re creating opportunities and eliminating barriers for existing and new businesses alike, while retaining the thoughtful process that protects our community values,” said Mayor Kevin McKeown.

“The coronavirus shutdown gave us the impetus to streamline traditional rules, accelerate recovery, and look to a bright future,” McKeown said.

The changes -- which affect existing businesses in the Third Street Promenade area and major commercial districts -- expand minor amendments contemplated before the coronavirus shutdown.

They also expand on proposed changes to the Promenade that help create "a more interesting experience through more opportunities for nightlife, entertainment, and flexibility to experiment with different uses," staff said.

The interim zoning changes approved by the Council:

  • Relax alcohol service regulations by expanding alcohol service hours from 8 a.m. to midnight seven days a week, eliminating the cap on alcohol sales of 35 percent of gross revenue and allowing for delivery and take-out of alcohol with a valid alcohol license. The changes also remove restrictions on the Promenade for television screens and video or other amusement games and allows for entertainment.

  • Eliminate a rule that extends for one year non-conforming uses for restaurants and retail. This gives businesses wanting to open similar businesses in vacated spaces more time to launch.

  • Remove parking as a potential barrier by easing parking requirements for new businesses, excluding all outdoor dining areas from parking calculations and lowering the parking requirements for gyms. It also eliminates on-site loading spaces for certain businesses.

  • Reduce restrictions on restaurant size by, among other things, removing the cap on the number of restaurants per block on Main Street, adding multi-tenant food halls as conditionally permitted uses and removing restrictions on converting eating and drinking establishments to another use on ground floors on the Promenade.

Tuesday's actions were the first procedural changes made by the Council as Santa Monica attempts to recover from a coronavirus shutdown that is expected to reduce sales tax revenues by 14 percent over the next fiscal year and bed taxes by 42 percent.

The recovery efforts give staff greater authority to approve simple design review applications, overhaul the Minor Outdoor Dining process and guidelines and streamline the processes to open a business and complete commercial tenant improvements, staff said.

“We are laser focused on economic recovery for all in our community," said Interim City Manager Lane Dilg. "Every Council meeting will include at least one agenda item that protects vulnerable residents or supports our struggling local business community.”


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