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San Diego Mayor Wants To Expand Outdoor Dining During Pandemic

Customers sit in an outdoor dining area on India Street in Little Italy, June 18, 2020.
Andrew Bowen
Customers sit in an outdoor dining area on India Street in Little Italy, June 18, 2020.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer on Thursday unveiled a proposal to speed up permitting of outdoor dining, as restaurants and other small businesses face limited indoor capacity amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The proposal would fast-track requests from restaurants and local business districts that want to place dining tables on sidewalks, parking lots or street parking spots. That permitting process would go from taking months to days, city officials said, and it would also be open to retail establishments.

For a limited number of businesses, the city also plans to waive the associated permitting fees that can add up to more than $1,000. The precise number of businesses that could benefit from the fee waivers is not yet clear, but Faulconer said it would be hundreds.


"It's going to allow for more seating, more customers and more business," Faulconer said at a morning news conference.

Health experts say COVID-19 is less likely to spread outdoors than indoors because of better ventilation and the damaging effect sunlight has on the virus.

Some businesses in San Diego have already secured approval for expanding outdoor activities: Restaurants in Little Italy began setting up dining tables on India Street last weekend, and this weekend the city will block cars from entering a portion of Fifth Avenue in the Gaslamp Quarter to allow pedestrians to spread out more.

North Park Main Street is also planning on applying for a permit to place dining tables on-street parking spots along two blocks of 30th Street. Some businesses in the neighborhood have fought against plans to remove parking on 30th Street in the past — but the business district's executive director, Angela Landsberg, said the pandemic has changed the conversation.

"We're not going to have a parking issue if we don't have businesses," Landsberg said. "We've got plenty of parking, people are not coming out and filling all the spots. Let's use those spots right now to keep our businesses in business."


The San Diego City Council is expected to vote on the program July 7, though the city has already begun accepting applications online. City staffers are proposing it as an emergency ordinance, meaning it would take effect immediately upon council approval.