Pacific Beach restaurants to get a nudge from city on fixing unsafe outdoor dining spaces

Deputy fire marshals will educate restaurant and shop owners on the proper installation of outdoor tents, awnings and decks.
Beginning this month, deputy fire marshals will educate restaurant and shop owners on the proper installation of outdoor tents, awnings and decks, which require temporary outdoor permits.
(Courtesy photo)

Beginning this month, deputy fire marshals will educate restaurant and shop owners on the proper installation of outdoor tents, awnings and decks, which require temporary outdoor permits


With restaurants getting back to serving customers outdoors, the city of San Diego wants to make sure the temporary decks, tents and awnings they use are safe and up to code.

Beginning Feb. 1, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department personnel will be reaching out to local business owners in Pacific Beach and other parts of the city to educate them on the proper installation of temporary outdoor structures and to remind them of the need to obtain the proper municipal permit.

During the planned inspections, deputy fire marshals will hand out to owners and managers informational bulletins that include all the requirements they need to follow for outdoor dining, which resumed Jan. 25 after Gov. Gavin Newsom lifted the COVID-19 stay-at-home order. Newsom noted that with current trends in infection rates, hospitalization and intensive care rates will continue to drop.

“SDFD inspectors are very interested in helping businesses understand why these inspections will take place,” said Deputy Chief Doug Perry of the San Diego Fire Rescue Department. “The goal of all city departments is to keep everyone safe and be as supportive as possible as we all go through many changes because of the pandemic.”

In a move last year to help businesses expand their operating space amid tightening restrictions designed to curb the spread of the coronavirus, the city of San Diego began allowing temporary structures and decking to be installed in parking lots, on sidewalks and in the streets as long as permits were obtained.

As the weather has turned colder, San Diego fire officials have grown concerned about such things as the improper use of heaters too close to fabric tents and the erection of walled tents that don’t allow for cross-ventilation.

“During the summer, when outdoor dining was more prevalent, the heaters, tents and structures were not an issue because it was warm,” Perry explained. “Businesses were using multiple umbrellas, but there was no need for heaters. As the lockdown continued and winter arrived, businesses wanted to protect their customers from the cold and rain. This is when they put sidewalls and roofs on the structures and erected tents.”

Among the various violations that fire officials have seen, Perry said, are unpermitted structures in city streets, liquid propane gas heaters within tents, lights that are not designed for outdoor use, materials being used for roof coverings that don’t meet the state fire marshal’s requirements, and failure to install fire extinguishers inside tents and other outdoor structures. And in some instances, tents and other outdoor enclosures have been erected where more than 50 percent of the structure has impermeable walls that don’t allow for the proper circulation of air.

Since launching its temporary program last summer that expanded options for outdoor dining, the city has received 480 applications and approved 370 permits, said city spokesman Scott Robinson.

During the months when outdoor dining was permitted, the relaxed regulations proved a lifesaver for restaurants that had lost substantial business due to the shutdown of indoor dining.

“San Diego’s small businesses have been our focus through this pandemic, and we will work alongside those businesses that are permitted to conduct business outdoors so they can continue to do so safely and responsibly,” said Christina Bibler, director of the city’s Economic Development Department. “We will help them navigate the process with care and grace if any changes are needed so they can be successful.”

While there are issues with outdoor structures throughout the city, Perry said he suspects that most of the violations “should be easy to bring into compliance.”

City and fire officials say they are making an effort to educate rather than punish business owners, recognizing the huge financial toll the pandemic has taken, most notably on restaurants until recently were limited to takeout only. Retail shops can still operate indoors with much-reduced capacity, and gyms are still allowed to offer outdoor classes and workouts.

Notices of violations will only be issued when inspectors return to conduct a reinspection and the violation has not yet been corrected. Perry said there will be no charge from the fire department for the inspections.