Belmont dining

After finishing their meals, Tina Moore (left) and James Collins (right) chat over beers at Waterdog Tavern in Belmont.

The Belmont City Council supports permanent outdoor dining options on appropriate public sidewalks, private parking lots and streets moving forward, provided regulations are reasonable and city staff addresses concerns about liability.

“I am supportive of this, as we have said in the past. This is a real help to our hospitality venues. It’s a wonderful amenity for our citizens. We do have to regulate it for safety and order of the community, but reasonable regulations I think make this OK,” Councilmember Tom McCune said.

At its July 27 meeting, the council expressed unanimous support for staff to look at permanent outdoor dining options and to work on regulations. The council directed staff to explore the issue at its previous July meeting. Cities throughout the Peninsula embraced temporary dining during the pandemic. Belmont adopted August 2020 zoning amendments to temporarily allow outdoor dining within public right-of-way sidewalks and private parking areas.

“Outdoor dining use is allowed and considered ancillary and permitted by right in all Belmont commercial areas. What’s under consideration tonight to the council is to extend these allowances to public right-of-way sidewalk, street and private parking lots,” Community Development Director Carlos de Melo said at the meeting.

De Melo presented staff findings and said a few restaurants had converted portions of private parking to outdoor dining, and the city had experienced no issues in operations, safety or unintended impacts to adjacent properties. City staff recommended that outdoor dining structures within both sidewalk areas and parking lots be constructed with permanent materials instead of current temporary options.

Public sidewalk areas are not often used for outdoor dining in Belmont, as few places have excess sidewalk area in the city. Most have focused on the patio area directly adjacent to the business. De Melo said public sidewalk use was reasonable as long as minimum sidewalk width requirements are maintained.

On public street options, city staff said the council could consider more permanent parklets within the public right-of-way on appropriate city streets. Staff had concerns about having parklets on arterial streets, like El Camino Real and Ralston Avenue, given safety, maintenance and spacing concerns, noting outdoor dining structures are not appropriate for those street types.

When asked about potential liability concerns, City Attorney Scott Rennie said a parklet in the street would still be within a public easement and be public property.

“If someone were injured, the city would be a potentially responsible party, a defendant in a lawsuit, if you will. I would advise as part of any sort of program like this that we would have fairly strong indemnity requirements on anyone who wants this sort of permission and that they provide suitable levels of insurance,” Rennie said.

Vice Mayor Julia Mates wanted strict insurance standards for permits to protect the city from liability and for consideration of utilities underground and above when building parklet structures.

“I am in favor of continuing to pursue this. I think the staff is on the right track with the draft standards, Mates said.

Councilmember Davina Hurt said she and Mayor Charles Stone brought the item before the council because it was an important issue and a positive development for the city, with people during the pandemic embracing parklets and outdoor dining.

“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of outdoor dining and that we continue it. I think it makes our city lively, and I look forward to what staff brings back by way of details so we can evaluate them and make sure that this continues after the pandemic,” Hurt said.

Councilmember Warren Lieberman liked the approach of making safety and accessibility paramount and felt adding permanent outdoor dining could add a positive dimension to Belmont.

“I think to the extent that we can support our restaurants, we can support our local businesses with outdoor dining and ways that don’t intrude on public access and mobility, I think that’s a wonderful thing,” Lieberman said.

Stone supported the process as long as the city did not face legal liability and patrons were not exposed to unreasonable risk.

“Doing so has to be done under the constraints of reasonableness, safety and liability,” Stone said.

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