More than a year of outdoor dining experience aimed at helping financially struggling San Diego restaurants survive the pandemic will now become a permanent fixture, thanks to measures taken by city council on Tuesday.
A one-of-a-kind program for San Diego, the council-approved new alfresco dining policy will allow restaurateurs to extend their outdoor seating on sidewalks, and in metered and unmetered parking spaces in front of their restaurants. places as long as they pay a fee, a requirement that so far has not been imposed.
Spaces as Places, as the program is known, will go into effect next July when the current temporary program expires. It will include a number of design and safety rules that will allow restaurants to install platforms to sit along unpainted, yellow or green borders, provided they are at least 20 feet away. an intersection, a street corner, an alley or a driveway.
Such alfresco dining, however, will not be permitted along red, blue or white borders or in an alleyway. They will also be restricted to streets with speed limits not exceeding 30 miles per hour, an aspect of the new ordinance that has sparked differences of opinion among council members.
Council’s vote on the ordinance on Tuesday was 6-2, with council members Joe LaCava and Sean Elo-Rivera voting no because they believe the public will be better protected if the upper speed limit is 25 miles per hour. City Councilor Stephen Whitburn pointed out that businesses located along three key street segments in his neighborhood – Fourth and Fifth Avenues at Bankers Hill and University Avenue in North Park – would no longer be able to offer meals in the area. street if the upper speed limit was set at 25 mph.
City Councilor Chris Cate was not present at Tuesday’s hearing.
San Diego’s foray into outdoor dining expansion last year has been such a hit for restaurants struggling to adapt to the ever-changing indoor dining rules that makers of. the city decided to develop a plan to keep the popular program in place permanently.
At least two board members noted that the expansion of outdoor dining has been one of the few positive outcomes of the pandemic.
“This is one of the silver liners we’ve seen in the horrific ordeal of the COVID-19 pandemic,” City Councilor Marni von Wilpert said. âBusinesses really depend on the city’s ingenuity to help them get back on their feet. As we know, the economic impacts of this pandemic are not nearly over. “
While businesses have so far escaped the requirement to pay a fee for the right to erect what planners call “streets” in the public right-of-way, they will now be subject to annual fees for permits. two years, ranging from $ 10 to $ 30 per year. square foot. The fees vary depending on where the businesses are located in the city. The San Diego Planning Department uses a “Climate Fairness Index” that relies on environmental and socio-economic factors to determine whether a business owner will pay $ 10, $ 20, or $ 30 per square foot.
For example, the annual fee for a two-year permit for a 200 square foot park would range from $ 2,000 to $ 6,000. The average parking space occupies approximately 200 square feet. More nominal development impact fees will also be charged.
A portion of the revenue from the new permit fees would be used to fully recover the costs of administering and enforcing the program, but the remaining funds could be spent on improvements such as widening sidewalks and widened cycle paths and ‘other improvements to make the streets more attractive to walkers and cyclists. The fee money would also help boost outdoor dining in low-income areas.
Although the council has agreed to set the maximum speed limit at 30 mph for outdoor dining structures along the streets, some members have pointed out that a new state law will come into effect on January 1 that will allow municipalities to reduce speed limits along city streets. . They encouraged city staff to continue down this path in the hopes of eventually ensuring that all outdoor cafes in the public right-of-way are only found on streets at a top speed of 25mph.
Even as the city prepares to implement the new program, it continues to crack down on companies that did not get permits early on for their structures or that built them in violation of city and fire codes. . A number of restaurants have built roofs over their parklets, believing they were permitted, only to learn later that they are not permitted and should be removed.
In May, the city’s development and fire departments sent letters to licensees and applicants informing them that they had until July 14 of this year to put their outdoor dining structures. compliance. If they did not, they could be subject to revocation of their licenses.
Among the violations found by code compliance investigators are decks and railings larger than 45 inches and sidings suspended like a roof. Another issue is that tent structures and canopies were only permitted for temporary use, defined as a period of 180 days or less, under the California Fire Code, and must now be removed.
To date, city inspectors have visited more than 100 businesses, either as a result of complaints or as a result of what they have observed directly in the course of their work, said Scott Robinson, spokesperson for development services. . So far, 53 have received civil sanction orders and 18 more such orders are in the pipeline, Robinson said.
Among the dozens of restaurants that have received notices of violation include Cucina Urbana, Hob Nob Hill, Royal India and Puesto La Jolla.
“It is not the ministry’s intention to be punitive,” said director of development services Elyse Lowe in an interview. âWe are trying to achieve compliance so that businesses can continue to operate in a safe manner. We are not here to take money from small businesses, quite the contrary. We have been incredibly lenient in allowing temporary use that has never been permitted in the city so that they can get through this difficult time caused by the pandemic. “
Recognizing that the city was going to begin to be more stringent in bringing outdoor dining structures into compliance, the Little Italy Association began lobbying Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office a few months ago in hopes of get a decree that would effectively allow restaurants to keep their rooftop structures. and outdoor lighting installations in place until next July.
With the help of the California Restaurant Association, a petition signed by about 40 restaurants was submitted to state assembly leaders without success, Li Mandri said. He learned last week that Newsom’s office, following a final plea, was not inclined to implement anything statewide at this point.
“I give the city credit for being as accommodating as it gets, and I have to say that it saved people’s businesses,” Marco Li Mandri, CEO of Little Italy, said in an interview. âBut now we have to take those roofs down and we are looking for portable electric generators to light the facilities and we are looking for umbrellas. We always knew that eventually we would have to make these temporary structures permanent, but we were hoping that we could keep them as they are now until they get the permanent permits.
Michael Georgopoulos, owner of Huntress and Rustic Root, both located in the Gaslamp neighborhood, says their outdoor structures are larger, around 600 to 800 square feet, and they will need to have their roofs removed, given the regulations. of the state fire codes that prohibit them. For now, he’s waiting for it to be cited.
“I haven’t received anything yet,” said Georgopoulos, who also sits on the board of the Gaslamp Quarter Association. âI’m sure they come to me at some point. This program is ideal for the Gaslamp to get the extra square footage for outdoor dining, but there is a lot of parking meter revenue that we rely on that is going to disappear. So on the one hand, it’s good that we have these parklets, but we still need to be able to get our revenue from the parking meters that we rely on.
In addition to permanently allowing meals on city streets, the new regulations also cover other options, including sidewalk extensions where the sidewalk is permanently extended into the parking lane, public walks via closure entire streets and meals in parking lots of private restaurants.
The Spaces as Places program will be available to business owners 30 days after the city council’s second reading of the ordinance, which is expected next month. Before the new regulations can take effect in the city’s coastal areas, they will have to pass the rally with the California Coastal Commission, which city officials say can take place before next July.