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KCRW Small Business Reporter Megan Jamerson: 

When I eat out at my favorite restaurants, I’m often thinking about the behind-the-scenes effort that allows me to enjoy the food in front of me. And right now, many restaurants are anxiously waiting to see how the City of LA is making its pandemic-era outdoor dining program permanent. 

 This week on Greater LA, I spoke with Host Steve Chiotakis about the push and pull between the city and restaurants over the first two drafts of an ordinance that would make LA’s Al Fresco dining program permanent. Restaurants recently won some concessions where the city removed a $20,000 permit requirement and added back in flexibility over using parking for dining. As the program stands now, it could still be expensive for restaurants to get their existing patios approved. Some businesses told me they aren’t sure they will continue with the program if the red tape remains. This could mean less revenue and layoffs for the small business community.

 It’s clear the city is listening to these concerns. It says it wants this wildly successful program to continue but that it needs to re-introduce some rules to keep workers and diners safe. This story feels like an example of how challenging it can be to balance public safety without strangling the local economy in a city the size of LA. 

The City of LA’s outdoor dining program looks unchanged for customers seated in the private driveway outside Anajak Thai in Sherman Oaks since the pandemic lockdowns. Photo courtesy of Anajak Thai/Photo by Carter Hiyama.

LA’s outdoor dining update may keep the patios open

During the pandemic, a program called L.A. Al Fresco allowed restaurants to use sidewalks and parking spaces for dining, which became a lifeline for businesses. Now the City of LA wants to make it permanent. 

The City Planning Department’s first draft of the rules faced criticism — the public said it was restrictive and required restaurants to pay pricy new permits for existing patios. The second draft, released April 7, has looser rules for alcohol permits, application fees, and using parking for dining. Some restaurant staffers are satisfied, but concerns remain about the rest of city bureaucracy.

Brittany Valles, who owns and operates Gogo’s Tacos in Rampart Village and Guerilla Tacos in Downtown LA, says she is concerned that a more complicated process will push smaller mom-and-pop businesses like hers out of the program. 

Patio table for two, please
Abandoned children’s bikes. Credit: Shutterstock.

Missing Black teens in CA could get their own Ebony Alert system

Similar to an Amber Alert in California, a proposed Ebony Alert would be activated by law enforcement agencies who want help in searching for missing Black kids and women ages 12–25. State Senator Steven Bradford of Gardena has penned a bill to create this notification system. It still needs to get approved.

Meanwhile, the state currently has a Feather Alert for missing Indigenous people and Silver Alert for missing seniors.

No one left behind
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Armenia. Photo by Levi Bridges.

From Armenia to LA and back again: Meet the ‘repatriates’

For decades, a steady stream of Armenian immigrants have arrived in Southern California communities, such as Glendale, to start new lives. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians fled during the 1915–1916 genocide, and another wave happened around the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union when Armenia became independent. But recently, many kids of these immigrants have started leaving LA and moving back to their homeland, seeking stronger ties to their roots. 

“Before I came here, Armenia was this imagined place that existed in my mind and in my heart and in songs and food, but I had no direct connection to Armenia,” says Kyle Khandikian, an LA native who moved to Yerevan seven years ago. “Now, it’s just become part of my everyday.”

Take me home
AltaSea’s Alan Hill (right) teaches Ernest Ekejiuba (left), a senior at King/Drew Magnet High School, how to operate a professional grade underwater robot. Photo by Zeke Reed.

LA innovators dive into the sustainable ‘blue economy’

AltaSea, a nonprofit near the Port of LA, supports scientists, entrepreneurs, and students working to make Los Angeles a global hub for the so-called “blue economy” — the aquatic equivalent of the sustainable green economy on land.   

AltaSea CEO Terry Tamminen tells KCRW, “Los Angeles is absolutely going to become the Silicon Valley of the sea. I do believe in the next 10 or 20 years, this will be to the California economy what Silicon Valley was 40 or 50 years ago.”

Make waves in tech
Steve Chiotakis (left) takes a picture of a cow thistle, a common weed, with Lila Higgins of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Photo by Zacile Rosette.

City Nature Challenge: Find rare species in your neighborhood

The City Nature Challenge started in 2016 as a friendly rivalry between Los Angeles and San Francisco: Which city could get residents to take the most pictures of plants and animals in their own backyards and neighborhoods?

Since then, the challenge has expanded to cities around the world, and citizen scientists upload their images on apps like iNaturalist.

One of the challenge’s founders is Lila Higgins, senior manager for community science at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. She tells KCRW, “We documented thousands of rare and endangered species last year, and we will document more this year. And so if we don't know where plants and animals that are rare and endangered live, how do we know where to do our conservation efforts? So we really need this data to help inform how we're going to make our cities better places for humans and wildlife to live.”

Be a citizen scientist
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