PISMO BEACH, Calif. -- Pismo Beach business leaders held an online meeting Thursday morning to discuss possible solutions to the city's current restrictions on outdoor operations.
During the one-hour Zoom meeting held by the South County Chambers of Commerce, business owners spoke about the need to allow some of their operations to be shifted outside.
Unlike many other coastal cities in California, Pismo Beach is currently not allowing businesses to move some of their services outside to city sidewalks and parking spaces.
"As of right now, it's prohibited to have outdoor seating on sidewalks," said Jorge Garcia, Pismo Beach Management Services Director. "That includes any other type of business activity, a retail business can't put out their clothes, or other items for sale, so for us, it's being equitable and being consistent with all of our business types."
San Luis Obispo County is currently on the state's Monitoring List for exceeding the state metric for number of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 population.
With the county on the Monitoring List, several indoor operations are now prohibited, including dining and personal care services.
During the one-hour meeting, business owners spoke passionately about the need to move outdoors as soon as possible.
Afterwards, Shell Beach Brewhouse co-owner Frank Schiro, emphasized just how important it would be for his restaurant.
"We feel, in order to survive, not only our business, but almost all the businesses that are in downtown, are going to need outdoor seating," said Schiro. "I just don't think maybe (the city) is in touch how desperate the situation is for so many businesses. We're hurting."
Schiro pointed out the restaurant has only 15 seats on its outside patio, which isn't enough to sustain operations.
Shell Beach Brewhouse does have a private parking lot, but it's too sloped to be opened for tables, and Schiro added a temporary stage that could provide a level surface is simply too costly.
Schiro, who also is part owner in restaurants in Arroyo Grande and San Luis Obispo, said both of those two nearby cities, as well as several others, have been quick to make adjustments to city regulations that benefit business.
"We're asking the city of Pismo to do what every other city has done along the coast in California, throughout our nation, and to really hear the cry that we won't make it without this extra seating," said Schiro.
San Luis Obispo recently adopted a new program that establishes the creation of parklets along city streets to allow businesses to operate outside.
Arroyo Grande recently closed down Short Street to allow for outside dining for area restaurants, include Rooster Creek Tavern, which Schiro co-owns.
Garcia stressed the city is very supportive of all local businesses.
"A successful business community is a successful city," said Garcia. "We know that the relationship between the business community and the city are intertwined."
But he added why the situation it's not as simple as changing a few rules.
"The first and major reason why we're not allowing it, it public safety," said Garcia. "We have to ensure the safety of all people. When you start changing traffic patterns, when you start putting outdoor dining on the streets or sidewalks, you create conflict points between pedestrians, visitors and motorists, and that can create some very significant challenges."
Garcia added there are other issues as well, including the ongoing Shell Beach Streetscape Project, which is scheduled to completed soon.
"In addition, we have ADA concerns, and quite frankly, the city just was not built and designed for that," said Garcia. "We're an eclectic community. Our sidewalks change from area to area, so in order to be consistent to promote safety, as well as encourage people to park in safe manners, it wasn't an option for us at this time."
He added Pismo Beach recently tried expanding outdoor business options, but that it was not successful.
"About two and a half months ago, before any other community did, the city had tables in the right of way," said Garcia. "We did block off parking, and the response from the business community was that it wasn't working. There was trash. There wasn't any control. We were seeing people drinking out in public, so it created a lot of nuisance issues that the business community actually requested the city remove those tables."
During the online meeting, several business owners expressed frustration Pismo Beach leaders were being difficult to work with.
"I've never seen so much obstruction," said Beachin' Biscuits owner Gina Mayo. "I feel like Pismo is picking winners and losers and I don't think that's right. Why people are not bending over backwards to make that happen, because when (businesses) do well, the city receives funds. I just don't understand why they're being so oppositional."
Mayo wants the city to be more proactive, and agreed with Schiro that it needs to model itself like its neighbor to the north.
"In order to salvage some of these businesses that are really struggling, there are going to have to come up with some common areas," said Mayo. "I have driven through San Luis, and it looks amazing with all of the outdoor parklet areas. It's busy. It's bustling. They have revenue. They're employing people, and it just doesn't seem like Pismo is going in that direction."
Looking forward, business owners are hoping the City Council will allow them the chance to modify outdoors as soon as possible.
"We're asking them to do the right thing and open up the public right of way for dining and for all businesses that need it," said Schiro. "Right now, this is a time for action. To this point, we haven't seen a lot of movement. We heard talk, but it's now time to go past talk and go to action."
Garcia said the city is ready to work with its local business owners.
"We welcome different ideas," said Garcia. "Just yesterday, two council members, myself, our chief of police, we met with business owners and the Pismo Chamber of Commerce to talk about ideas, and we let them know if they want to submit a proposal that was comprehensive, that dealt with all of the issues that we discussed, safety, access and parking control, that we would consider those things."
Businesses are currently working with the Pismo Beach Chamber of Commerce and the South County Chambers of Commerce to come up with a unified plan.
"We just want to get to a solution," said Schiro. "We want to be collaborative. We don't want to fight. We just want people to survive."
Garcia also noted that any solution would need to be fair and equitable for all business types, not just restaurants, but also retail shops, another businesses too.
When a plan comes forward, he said the city is ready to work together.
"We go hand and hand in this, so we look forward to working with our businesses," said Garcia. "We have been. We've talked to several to come up with solutions, and we've found them. We look forward to continuing that process."