Outdoor dining near the San Diego coast faces strict restrictions

Restaurants along San Diego’s beaches are facing tough new rules for outdoor dining that will now require them to replace any lost parking, including on public streets.

The new requirement, approved Wednesday by the California Coastal Commission, threatens to upend plans by beach-area restaurants seeking to keep the outdoor seating areas they built on the street during the disaster, when indoor dining was ordered to close. trade is severely restricted.

The commission, which was required to weigh the permanent locations of San Diego’s outdoor dining program, argued that without conditions, public access to the beach could be hindered.

Particularly affected by the parking restrictions is the so-called “coastal impact zone,” a stretch of beach that runs from the north end of Torrey Pines State Reserve and 15 miles south to Sunshine State Park. In most areas of the zone, the boundary extends inland for about a quarter of a mile. The commission described the area as a part of the city with a chronic lack of parking.

The rest of San Diego’s vast coastal area will not be subject to the added law.

“I would expect more than a few of these restaurants won’t be able to provide replacement parking because it’s already affected there and they won’t be able to get permits (for outdoor dining),” said San Diego Coastal Planner Alex Llerandi. commission. “They should remove the food court and put it back in the public parking area.”

Commission staff explained that the parking requirements are necessary to maintain adequate access to beach areas, which are frequented by motorists as opposed to public transportation.

“While the space program is expected to improve pedestrian-oriented services and promote alternative modes of transportation, there are potential negative public access agreements associated with the program, and limited information about the benefits of the program. will have,” the agency concluded in a staff report to the commission.

Noting the high cost of housing within walking distance of the beach, the staff concluded that the loss of public parking tends to disproportionately affect those from low-income areas, “which raises environmental justice concerns.”

Places like The Places originated more than two years ago as a temporary strategy for restaurants that were financially damaged by the COVID restrictions. The program was such a success that the City Council made it permanent last year, establishing a number of design and safety rules that allow restaurants to install patio seating that is not painted, yellow or green as long as are at least 20 feet away. intersection, street corner, alley or driveway.

Businesses must also now secure a special two-year permit and pay fees for the right to build restaurant buildings in the public right-of-way. This permanent program was implemented in July for all but the coastal area, which was pending action by the Coastal Commission.

The City of San Diego, although it has not included any requirements of its own related to replacing lost parking, is not opposed to the new Coastal Commission rule, which affects “streets” or street food places, public rides. and private off-street parking. places that have been converted into restaurants.

“While the requirements for replacing on-street parking may be a challenge for some businesses to achieve, the Coastal Impact Zone is a small area of ​​coastal communities that is subject to high levels of traffic congestion and parking needs. ,” said the city. San Diego spokeswoman Tara Lewis.

The current closure of one block of Avenida de la Playa in the La Jolla Shores area for outdoor dining could be in jeopardy as a result of the Beach Commission on Wednesday.

The committee received many letters from La Jolla residents opposing the parking change requirements, which they said would kill the outdoor dining program in the La Jolla Shores area where Avenida de la Playa stretches between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata. closed to traffic since July 2020. None, however, spoke during the committee hearing, held in Long Beach.

As a local business in the ‘Shop’ area of ​​La Jolla, Hotel La Jolla finds it unbelievable that the Coastal Commission will consider (complete) street lunch on Avenida de la Playa using a limited number of public parking lots,” said Adam Lund, the hotel’s general manager. “Hotel La Jolla hosts tens of thousands of guests each year. Our guests have given feedback on how beautiful this walkable, accessible space is during their visits.”

Coastal planner Llerandi said the off-limits area for certain hours includes 22 parking spaces that were previously available for free.

The Coastal Commission’s case offers another way to replace lost parking through what it describes as a shared parking agreement with a third party, such as a nearby business or residential complex with additional private parking. It is not known, however, how difficult it is to confirm this agreement.

The commissioners acknowledged that the city faced a balancing act to meet the needs of the rehabilitation and members of the public who wanted easy access to the beach.

“I really like to see more walkable streets, but I’m also concerned about the privacy of public spaces,” said Commissioner Linda Escalante.

Justin McIntyre, general manager of Baja Beach Cafe on Pacific Coast, is concerned that the need to replace the lost parking spaces could kill his outdoor dining area. He is currently awaiting word from the city of San Diego on a request to retain and modify the restaurant’s Thomas Avenue location, which can seat up to 60 diners. Now it takes up five parking spaces, he said.

“We hired a professional architect and paid a pretty penny to get it right,” said McIntyre, who estimated the total cost at $20,000. “As the Coastal Commission is aware, parking is expensive at the beach. So if we didn’t agree with one of our neighbors that parking was available, our project would be dead in the water.