San Diego City offers grants for retail and restaurants operating outdoors
San Diego businesses with outdoor dining and services can apply for up to $20,000 in grant funding to allow them to continue outdoor operations within the public right of way legally, the city announced Wednesday.
These businesses must have previously received a Temporary Outdoor Business Operations permit and have applied for a new Spaces as Places permit -- a January 2022 initiative which allows local eating and drinking establishments to exclusively use outdoor spaces in the public right of way, including sidewalks and parking spaces.
"We know that San Diegans enjoy the outdoor experience that many local business offer, and we want to assist dining and drinking establishments who made these changes during the COVID-19 pandemic to continue operating outdoors," said Christina Bibler, director of the city's Economic Development Department. "It's our hope that people will cooperate with the new Spaces as Places requirements and use this program to their benefit."
Around $300,000 in outdoor business grant funding is available through the current fiscal year until June 30, 2023. That funding comes from Senate Bill 1186 fees, collected through the sale of business licenses and renewals and the Small Business Enhancement Program.
Awarded in phases, the grant is intended to help cover permitting, design and construction expenses for businesses operating in the public right of way.
Businesses located within the San Diego Promise Zone boundaries — a territory that includes East Village, Barrio Logan, Southcrest, Lincoln Park and Encanto — along with "those in low- and moderate-income areas or owned by low- and moderate-income individuals" are eligible for up to $20,000 in reimbursement. Businesses outside those locations and requirements may apply for up to a $15,000 grant.
The Spaces as Places initiative follows the Temporary Outdoor Business Operations (TOBO) program to support businesses with limited space to implement COVID-19 restrictions safely. The TOBO program expired on July 13, 2022.
Marco Li Mandri of the Little Italy Association says there are still some concerns for owners of these businesses, which have become known as “streetaries.”
“It’s an upfront bill and it’s going to be a disincentive for people. That’s why we need to have a smooth landing on this rather than a hard stop,” Li Mandri said. “I’m optimistic. I think the city will understand it. (The) city has been pretty supportive of these, by and large, for the last three years.”
The “exclusive use fee” alone is about $40 per square foot of street space, and the grant money only covers certain fees.
“It’ll be to everyone’s benefit to come up with a resolution. We’re not saying waive all the fees. We’re just saying maybe allow the fees to be paid over a longer period of time,” Li Mandri said.
Customers like Santee resident Karen Hinkle hope many restaurants are able to take advantage of the grant program.
“I hope that this restaurant and others like it, keep (their streetaries). Because it’s just so enjoyable to be out here. Take advantage of the beautiful day and everything. I mean I’d still come down, but it just wouldn’t quite be the same,” she said.
Hinkle was enjoying lunch at a Little Italy restaurant with a friend, Tammy Mooney, who’s visiting from Florida and said she loves to eat outdoors back home.
“A grant program to help the restaurants would be good because they already have to, with inflation, have to charge more,” Mooney said. “So I hate to see more money get put on them.”
According to a city statement, after covering program implementation costs, "at least 50% of the funding collected through Spaces as Places fees will be dedicated to public right-of-way, bicycle and pedestrian improvements in traditionally underserved communities."
More information about the grant, the award process and requirements can be found at sandiego.gov/economic-development/business/tobogrant.