Indoor is out. Following two weeks of rising COVID-19 cases, public health officials have halted all indoor operations at bars, restaurants, museums, zoos, cardrooms, theaters, and family entertainment centers for at least three weeks.
The immediate reaction from local business owners, and those trying to help them, was anger, resentment, and resignation. Some saw it coming.
“Not surprised,” reacted Diane Kane, chair of the La Jolla Community Planning Association advising the City on land use.
“The sadness for us is that La Jolla Shores Association has been working in good faith with the City to help our Shores restaurants be able to stay in business,” said a frustrated Janie Emerson, LJSA’s president, who’s been lobbying, along with other group members, for weeks to cut through the bureaucratic red tape at the City to allow outdoor dining.
But just when small businesses, particularly restaurants temporarily barred from having indoor dining, were being asked once again to make sacrifices due to the pandemic, the cavalry came over the hill.
On July 7, Mayor Kevin L. Faulconer signed an executive order to provide regulatory relief to restaurants and make dining safer by encouraging outdoor operations. The mayor’s order, which takes effect immediately, waives permitting and parking requirements for the use of sidewalks and private parking lots as outdoor dining venues.
Public health experts have promoted outdoor settings and physical distancing as two key tools to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
The mayor’s executive order came as welcome news to Sara Berns, executive director of Discover PB business improvement district. Berns recently sent a letter to City officials urging them to approve the Temporary Outdoor Business Program.
“As our restaurants will be closed down for indoor dining their frustrations are rightfully running high,” read Berns’ letter. “The option to close streets has overwhelmingly fallen on our organizations and even with the possibility of fees waived, will still cost thousands and thousands of dollars for our BIDs. Most of us do not have the means to execute. The expedited pedestrian plaza program is the only viable and affordable option for a majority of businesses.”
Added Berns: “Now facing the closure of indoor dining, hundreds of people will go back on unemployment. Business owners will have to mitigate the rehiring process all over again, and precious business will be lost. Some may not recover again. I plead that you help these small businesses. Expanding outdoor dining options for our communities is a simple policy fix that can make an immediate impact to our economic and social outlook, with little more than reasonable safety precautions to manage.”
The executive order enacts two elements from a broader outdoor dining regulatory overhaul the mayor announced in late June. Once approved by the City Council, that proposal will include additional components such as authorizing on-street parking spots to be used as cafes. Restaurants in business improvement districts already have access to streamlined reviews for sidewalk cafes, and now all restaurants citywide can easily set up cafes on sidewalks and in parking lots.
“The state’s new shutdown order had an immediate impact on local businesses, so I’ve signed an executive order to immediately waive regulations and help restaurants expand their service outdoors, creating a safer environment for their employees and customers,” Faulconer said. “This order will provide immediate relief as the City finalizes a full ordinance for Council approval that will cut fees and streamline permits to make it easier for businesses to operate in additional areas outdoors.”
The state’s latest COVID-19 directive is expected to affect over 4,000 restaurants, which employ more than 55,000 individuals in San Diego.
WHAT’S IN THE EXECUTIVE ORDER
Under regular rules, securing an outdoor dining and retail permit can cost more than $1,000 and can take several months to process. The mayor’s executive order will provide regulatory relief through:
1. Sidewalk cafes without permits:
Waives enforcement of municipal code section 141.0621(a)(2) related to permitting sidewalk cafes;
Has the effect of authorizing restaurants to establish temporary amenities within the public right-of-way such as tables and chairs;
Businesses cannot build structures as part of this executive order.
2. Private parking lots for outdoor dining:
Waives enforcement of municipal code section §142.0510 as it relates to the use of private parking lots;
The executive order remains in effect until the City Council adopts an emergency ordinance proposed by Mayor Faulconer last month, codifying these changes.
WHAT’S NEXT: ‘STREATERIES’ AND ‘STREETAIL’
Faulconer recently announced a plan to waive fees and fast-track permits to help businesses get back on their feet by safely increasing customer capacity. The proposed ordinance will encourage eateries and retail to transform into “streateries” and “streetail” by allowing businesses to expand onto street parking spaces, sidewalks and parking lots.
Announced three weeks ago on June 18, the proposal will help businesses maximize outdoor space to make up for lost revenue as a result of reduced or restricted indoor capacity and create more room for physical distancing.
THE MAYOR'S ORDINANCE WILL AUTHORIZE
Safe outdoor business operations in parking lots, on-street parking spaces, and sidewalks;
All eating and drinking establishments, including restaurants, cafes, bars, breweries and wineries are eligible, as allowed by state and county public health orders;
Retail establishments are eligible, as allowed by state and county public health orders;
Reductions in fees for special events by waiving processing costs and late fees for applicants to operate in the public right-of-way until physical distancing mandates expire;
Waiving and streamlining of permits and review to allow applicants to close streets and conduct business outdoors;
Retroactive fee waivers for applicants that were previously approved for an outdoor dining special event permit by May 1.