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San Diego City Council Votes To Extend Outdoor Dining To July 13, 2022

Customers seated outside in the parking lot at Crab Hut restaurant in Kearny ...

Photo by Alexander Nguyen

Above: Customers seated outside in the parking lot at Crab Hut restaurant in Kearny Mesa, Feb. 15, 2021.

San Diego businesses will be able to continue outdoor operations on sidewalks, city streets and private parking lots through July 13, 2022, under action taken Tuesday by the City Council.

The council voted 8-0 — with Councilman Chris Cate absent — to extend previous urgency ordinances allowing for outdoor business as the city seeks to develop a more robust and permanent process allowing for them. A "Spaces as Places" plan, still in development, would extend outdoor dining well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and make official changes to the municipal code.

Without the extension, permits for all restaurants were set to expire on July 13, and permits for other business services on Aug. 3.

"Building on the success of temporary outdoor dining as a tool to help businesses through the pandemic, Spaces as Places will provide a path for the long-term recovery of local businesses and neighborhoods across San Diego," a city staff report on the project reads. "The program will offer a menu of options approach to help foster social interaction and community building by allowing eating, drinking, recreation, public art, sidewalk vending, education, entertainment and other community gathering spaces within areas of the public right-of-way."

Councilman Joe LaCava said outdoor dining and retail was "one of the tiny silver linings" of the pandemic and applauded the approved motion for giving business owners a date certainty as to when the outdoor permitting might expire.

Last July 14, the City Council voted to allow temporary dining outdoors using public sidewalks and parking spots in certain business districts of the city. On Aug. 4, the council gave the OK for retail businesses and extended dining by 10 1/2 months.

Since then, city staffers have received 544 applications for the temporary permits for locations around the city, 427 of which have been approved. The majority of the applications that weren't approved came from businesses applying to use their own private parking lots and were thus unnecessary.

"While this program was launched as a temporary solution to a devastating situation, we have seen the benefits of allowing expanded outdoor dining and shopping in our communities," Mayor Todd Gloria said. "As a city, we are committed to exploring ways to make this a more permanent feature beyond the pandemic, creating an environment where businesses can thrive and our residents and visitors can enjoy what San Diego has to offer."

Councilwoman Monica Montgomery Steppe voted to extend the ordinances, but urged Mayor Todd Gloria and his staff to consider businesses is more underserved areas when developing a more permanent solution.

"Many businesses in my district were not able to participate because of how they are zoned or planned out," said Montgomery Steppe, who represents Council District 4, which includes Encanto, Valencia Park, Skyline and other Southeastern San Diego communities. "I don't want to move anything forward that would further inequity."

Many of the districts which allow for the outdoor dining are in more affluent areas, such as Little Italy, the Gaslamp District, Hillcrest, Pacific Beach and North Park.

A closely-tied concern arose from Councilman Sean Elo-Rivera, who worried businesses with more capital would be able to build more elaborate, eye- catching outdoor dining areas, leaving smaller businesses behind. City staff pointed to a grant program which allows businesses to apply to up to $5,000 for construction of outdoor structures.

As the recovery from the worst effects of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert said the "economic catch-up is going to lag behind," and that the proposal to extend had received overwhelming support from businesses.

Some downsides to the outdoor businesses have been reduced parking, patios encroaching on bike lanes and other businesses and — as San Diego Fire- Rescue Deputy Chief Doug Perry said — the tents some businesses have been using typically have a six-month time limit before they must be removed. Many of the permitted tents up in the city have been up for more than a year, which could potentially restrict firefighters' access to buildings.

Under the extension, overhead structures such as awnings or covered patios on the street must be removed, and tents larger than 401 square feet and other structures must receive a permit from the SDFD. Private parking lots may still be used for outdoor dining/retail.

City staff will be reaching out to businesses and restaurants with temporary outdoor business operations permits to ensure they are operating within the permit guidelines, ensuring compliance with fire, building and municipal codes.

All businesses will have until July 13 this year to ensure all violations are corrected or removed. After this date, non-compliant business may have existing permits revoked, may be assessed fines and face additional enforcement actions.

According to the city report, city staff will seek input regarding the Spaces as Places plan over the summer and the proposal will be presented to the City Council this fall.

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