In La Jolla, depending upon your point of view, they’re a little of both.
Sides have been chosen and views expressed: Should businesses be increasingly allowed to capitalize on outdoor dining space along sidewalks, or is it more appropriate to safeguard the Jewel’s sidewalk space from commercial encroachment in the form of outdoor café dining, leaving it open instead for pedestrian use?
On balance, sidewalks are needed – and good — for the community, said Claude-Anthony Marengo, president of the La Jolla Village Merchants Association (LJVMA).
“The sidewalk cafés in La Jolla provide the type of fabric that we really support in the community,” said Marengo. “We really think as merchants that these sidewalk cafes provide energy that is similar to the shopping centers and their benches along the center common areas, like you see at Westfield Shopping Center.”
Noting sidewalk cafes are meant to “create social circles and prolong your visit and interaction from the sidewalk to the business,” Marengo said it’s always better to “have our sidewalks busy with activity, and if it means blurring the lines between our sidewalks and our business …. I say it is good for the beach community that we live in.”
But there are those in La Jolla who view sidewalk cafes as more an obstruction than an amenity.
“I’m hoping we don’t lose our public sidewalks for private, financial gain,” said Sally Miller, a longtime La Jolla resident and a fixture at community planning group and board meetings.
Miller noted that La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance (PDO), the community’s blueprint for commercial development, seeks removal of most A-frame signs because they’re obstructions in the public right-of-way.
Why, she asks, shouldn’t the same rationale apply to sidewalk cafes?
“We’re not supposed to have public cafes in the sidewalk areas,” Miller said. “The PDO rules and regulations say there has to be eight-foot-wide clear, walkable sidewalks.”
La Jolla Town Council woman Francis O’Neill Zimmerman concurred.
“Outdoor cafes are lovely if they are sufficiently set off from pedestrian traffic, have table service using cutlery and dishes and permit comfortable observation of the human parade without impeding it,” she said.
O’Neill Zimmerman noted, “There is a huge difference between an outdoor cafe on a patio (at Pannikin, MOCA and the small strip mall including Porkyland, Jose's and La Valencia) and what is getting foisted on this community as sidewalk cafes — often permanent structural barriers along the curbs serving as customer benches on the interior, maybe or maybe not under some trees, allowing not much room for pedestrians to pass between the shop front and the cafe (Girard Gourmet)."
The town council woman noted outdoor cafes “sometimes are set off from the pedestrian path by ugly wrought-iron fencing and seldom, if ever, used (Spice n' Rice).
She said that, in her view, the only sidewalk cafe spacious enough to allow foot traffic and tables and chairs is the Bird Rock Starbuck's.
“Generally, cafes end up being unsightly messes without charm and a source of litter,” O'Neill Zimmerman said. “Benches, well-tended potted plants and hanging flower baskets around town would be a lot nicer than all the café clutter on our too-narrow sidewalks.”
Bird Rock architect Ione Stiegler, who heads La Jolla’s PDO subcommittee, which deals with sidewalks and other public right-of-way issues, said there are clearcut rules in the city’s municipal code to prevent sidewalk encroachment. She noted La Jolla’s rules are stricter than the city’s.
“The La Jolla PDO requires an eight-foot setback from any encroachment of sidewalks, whereas in the city of San Diego, it’s six feet,” said Stiegler adding, “That’s any encroachment — curblines, trees, power boxes, et cetera.”
Stiegler said the concept behind setback requirements on sidewalks is “to allow for pedestrian traffic in both directions, three feet one way and three feet the other for the city, and four feet each way in La Jolla.”
The overall objective of sidewalk setback requirements, said Stiegler, is to “create an easy flow of pedestrians on the sidewalk unencumbered by sidewalk cafes.”
Speaking for merchants, Marengo said, “I would like to see more of them, if possible, and on various streets, that allow us to connect the Village into a social event of walking and shopping exercises La Jolla style. I would like to see more of this European style of dining and drinking like they have in other communities such as Del Mar and Little Italy … the only thing it has done for them is made them busier, with people gathering and socializing in their business district. As president of the merchants association, we want a lot more of that … and as a resident, I want to enjoy it the same way.”