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Customers enjoy patio dining while complying to the social distancing requirements of restaurants in Hermosa Beach on Tuesday, June 16, 2020. (Photo by Brittany Murray, Press-Telegram/SCNG)

The Hermosa Beach City Council voted Wednesday during a special meeting to restrict hours of outdoor dining, the Pier Plaza and liquor sales in the city during the Fourth of July weekend to help slow the spread of the coronavirus.

For the three days of the holiday weekend, outdoor dining and to-go service as well as off-site liquor sales, including grocery and liquor stores, must end at 11 p.m., but can reopen the following morning. Pier Plaza will remain open until midnight each night and will reopen at 5 a.m. the following morning. The hours for outdoor dining is for all restaurants that have long-standing permits as well as ones with new permits for outside tables.

The vote came after state officials this week temporarily closed the beach, pier and The Strand for the holiday weekend; bars, breweries and wine tasting rooms and were shut down; and in-door dining was suspended for a minimum three weeks.

“We just can't continue to have our COVID infection rate to increase exponentially like it has over the last month,” said Councilmember Stacey Armato.

According to the city, Hermosa Beach’s confirmed cases, 77 as of Wednesday, of COVID-19 has increased by more than 165% in the past month and the city has the highest COVID-19 rate in the South Bay with 391 confirmed cases per 100,000 people.

In May, the Hermosa Beach City Council approved a temporary permit program for outdoor retail sales and dining to help struggling businesses in the city.

Ken Robertson, the city’s community development director, said at the meeting the city has received 22 applications for outdoor dining and four additional for outdoor retail establishments. He said the city has issued 16 permits to businesses, some which has used private parking lots or sidewalk areas on upper Pier Plaza for sales

“We're going to get a lot more applications over the next week and we'll do our best to move them along as fast as we can,” Robertson said.

Speakers at the virtual meeting expressed concerns about the spread of the virus as well as the impact the closure of the beach would have on local businesses. The city owns its beach, but they must comply with orders from the county and state, according to city officials.

One speaker said she felt like they were “losing rights and freedoms every day” and another believed politics was driving the closure. Yet another felt it was unconstitutional to close the beach.

“Please don’t take our freedom,” said one speaker.

Resident Alex Fineman said he was sympathetic to the challenges that businesses are facing, but he felt the health and safety of staff, customers and the community should come first.

“There are potential health impacts and even deaths from this virus that cannot be undone,” Fineman said. “The community with open businesses doesn't matter that much if we don't have a healthy, confident consumer base to patronize them.”

Hermosa Beach Police Chief Paul LeBaron said additional officers will be on duty who will implement an approach of education and enforcement.

“There will be deployed throughout the city with an emphasis on areas where community health, quality of life and public safety may be impacted,” LeBaron said. “This includes the beach, Strand, Pier Plaza and our city streets and neighborhoods. Our public safety staff will be focused on those crimes that create dangerous situations, whether they're related to public health or public safety.”

LeBaron added that police officers will be supplied with disposable masks and they are encouraged hand them out to anyone who does not have a mask in public.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, LeBaron said the police department has seen “willful non-compliance” with public health orders, which hampers their ability to patrol the city’s neighborhoods and to investigate and stop criminal activity.

“The best way that our community can show us support for public safety right now is to refrain from large gatherings that include people from different households,” LeBaron said.

The city also voted to close Parking Lot A, located on the northwest corner of 11th Street, and temporarily restrict Parking Lot B, on 13th Court and Hermosa Avenue, to only monthly permit holders over the three day holiday. The city’s downtown parking structure continues to stay closed.

Contact this reporter at mhixon@tbrnews.com or on Twitter @michaeljhixon.com.

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