The Fullerton City Council unanimously voted on Tuesday to extend the city’s outdoor dining program on Wilshire Avenue, which was enacted last year in response to the state’s indoor dining restrictions during the COVID-19 lockdown.
The City Council will extend the program in downtown Fullerton for six months, and West Wilshire Avenue will remain closed to allow for outdoor dining.
Before the extension, outdoor dining and the closure between Malden Avenue and Harbor Boulevard were set to expire at the end of September.
Mayor Bruce Whitaker said since he was elected in 2010, the idea of outdoor dining in Fullerton has always been a burning issue.
Previous councils recommended charging businesses high amounts to accommodate outdoor dining, which made it economically infeasible, he said.
“In the case recently, we’ve had this pandemic which injured restaurant businesses far worse than many other businesses. It put them on life support or worse, in many cases, so many haven’t survived the pandemic and the lockouts,” Whitaker said.
In his vision, Whitakersaid he would like to see the downtown dining experience on Wilshire Avenue look similar to that of Santa Monica or the Carlton District in Melbourne, Australia.
“By and large, they’re wildly popular and they are successful,” he said.
Currently, five restaurants and one café, Green Bliss Cafe, use the street for outdoor dining, said Kellee Fritzal, acting community and economic development director at City of Fullerton.
All council members favored extending the program, but council member Fred Jung said he would want it to cease in the current state due to a lack of regulations and oversight.
Jung, who represents District 1, said that bad actors are coming into unregulated spaces such as the outdoor dining area and causing overcrowding and malfeasance.
“I would move that we continue it, but in a regulated manner,” Jung said. “I’ve expressed this view before. I don't believe Wilshire should be closed any longer than it already has been. I think in that particular case that street does need to be open for pedestrians, cars and bicycles.”
Whitaker said he is much more a believer of “managing by exception,” and that if there is a problem or a bad actor, then deal with that exception.
“I don't think I'd care to punish a lot of these business owners who have worked really extra hard and made investments in the outdoor ability to meet all the requirements and to serve customers,” Whitaker said.
Whitaker said he did agree to impose future guidelines and regulations later in the future that will focus on safety and cleanliness.
Council member Jesus Silva, representative of District 3, reminded the council that Wilshire Avenue was recently repaved and cleaned up with grant money that was supposed to be used for creating a bike lane for the citizens of Fullerton.
Greg Pfost, the interim director of community and economic development, said that there are ways that the bike boulevard can be incorporated and adjusted into the closed off dining area.
During public comment, there was not only considerable support for the outdoor dining experience from community members, but also the need for outdoor music.
Ron Kobayashi, a 35-year professional jazz musician and resident musician of Les Amis restaurant in Fullerton, said the council should ease their restrictions on outdoor entertainment.
“Keep art alive, keep revenues pumping to the city and keep the citizenry happy,” Kobayashi said. “Especially during this time of COVID. Above all that, we really need to be cognizant of the fact that during COVID, the government's number one priority should be to keep its citizenry safe, and you can’t keep them safe by forcing them indoors. It has to be outdoors.”