Business at Rebel Republic Social House in Redondo Beach’s Riviera Village has been booming this year, but the dining deck will have to go.
Last week in a nearly unanimous decision the City Council ordered the fortified deck that extends into the street be removed by June, just two years after it was erected.
The so-called dining deck was installed in June 2015 as a pilot project by the city to assess the value of expanding such decks throughout the village, which take up parking spaces. While the deck was successful and brought a new look to the otherwise sleepy Riviera Village, it ultimately divided the local business community that viewed it as a special favor and saw both the pros and cons of the installation.
City Council decided 4-0 with Councilmember John Gran abstaining to require Rebel Republic to remove the deck by June 2018.
Paul Hennessey, who is part owner of the restaurant and also owns Hennessey’s Tavern and H.T. Grill in the village, said he was shocked. Based on a city staff report, he said the deck was a success.
“We had no ABC (Alcoholic Beverage Control) issues, no vehicle problems, no pedestrian problems. Plus the street received more bike spaces. And the report states that the deck has been well received,” Hennessey said.
Since it was installed, more than 30,000 people have eaten on the outdoor patio bordered by K-rails, enhanced landscaping and a bike rack. Hennessey said that as a result of the deck the restaurant paid an estimated $7,800 in city sales taxes, which at 9.5 percent amounts to more than $821,000 in 18 months.
The deck, meanwhile, cost less than $40,000 to create and the restaurant pays no rent for it to the city.
“That’s a great number of people to have sitting outside looking at the other businesses,” Hennessey said. “And I’m sure undoubtedly some of them actually went out and spent money with the other merchants.”
Business at Rebel Republic has been up this year by 20 percent, said part-owner Ralph Russomano. The restaurant currently employs 50 people, some of whose jobs could be at risk if the deck were removed, he said.
“I am a little surprised at this meeting,” Russamano said. “Up until very recently, the support and conversation about the dining deck has not been negative… It’s very concerning to potentially lose 20 percent of our gross revenue.”
Lauren Ray, a member of the Riviera Village Business Improvement District, said both the board of directors and its more than 200 members were split on opinions over the dining deck. The consensus among the group’s members, however, is that more parking is needed, she said.
“We’ve currently outgrown our parking and respectfully request attention,” said Ray, who suggested a subterranean parking garage with a parkette on top where the current triangle parking lot exists now.
“You could make Catalina a one-way street or close off part to create a walking promenade,” Ray said. “Both actions would create more outdoor dining.”
Bobby Nayebdadash, who owns Sophie’s Place along with his brothers, said the issue came down to equity. Not all restaurants or merchants could afford it, and not all of them would even be offered the opportunity based on a city draft proposal, he said.
"For two summers we have sat on the sidelines waiting to find out if we are going to be on an equal playing field or continue to watch our guests walk by because we can’t compete on an equal basis,” Nayebdadash told the council.
In the end, a majority of City Councilmembers agreed. Councilmember Nils Nehrenheim who represents District 1, which encompasses the Riviera, said that Paul Hennessey was getting a bad rap. It wasn’t him who approached the city, but the other way around.
“It’s tough for me to say I don’t support it,” Nehrenheim said. “I like going down there, but it’s the fairness and equity portion of it.”
Nehrenheim said part of the problem was the placement of the deck did not receive the attention it deserved at the time it was approved 18 months ago through the consent calendar, and because of that people were upset.
“All of a sudden everyone started knocking on the door saying who approved this,” Nehrenheim said. “And they started pointing fingers at Paul Hennessey, why should he get special treatment. But it wasn’t that at all.”
In making their decision, several councilmembers apologized to Hennessey and the other owners of Rebel Republic for any inconvenience and thanked the longtime restaurant owner for his volunteer work.
While council put the kibosh on the dining decks, it quietly sang the praises of expanding the city’s sidewalk dining permit process, something nearly everyone agrees will enhance the village feel.
Currently only two restaurants have a sidewalk dining permit in the village—Rebel Republic and Hennessey’s Tavern. At least three permits are pending: one each at Redondo Brewing, Gabby’s formerly Zazous and the upcoming Rockefeller’s at the site of the former Jonathan’s Fashion.
With the sidewalk dining permit, store owners will be required to pay for new paver stones on the sidewalk, street lighting and landscaping in addition to a one-time fee of $1,800.
While the dining deck may have sowed division among the village businesses, expanding sidewalk dining has nearly unanimous support.
“It’s home run and smash hit,” Nayebdadash said. “Everyone is going to benefit equally.”
Also coming up in the Riviera Village, city contractors will begin removing in December seven trees and replanting 10 in their place as part of the fourth phase of sidewalk improvements to the district.
The trees being removed have either outgrown their location or caused damage to the sidewalk and do not fit the tree pallet approved by the City Council several years ago, said Ted Semaan, public works director. The approved pallet includes the DAK palm, crepe myrtle and strawberry trees.