Restaurants near San Diego coast must restore parking displaced by streetside dining
The new regulation, which will apply to a narrow stretch of the coastline closest to the water, was approved by the City Council, but only after being required to do so by the California Coastal Commission.
In a blow to restaurants closest to San Diego’s coastline, the City Council consented Monday to new California Coastal Commission regulations that will require owners to replace any lost parking spaces taken up by outdoor dining areas they operate on the street.
The new restriction, which is much stiffer than what is now in effect for all other parts of the city, was approved in December by the Coastal Commission. The agency staff at the time raised concerns about outdoor seating in the street, which it argued would inhibit access to the beach areas, which are typically frequented by people driving by car as opposed to mass transit.
The council reluctantly voted in favor of the coastal agency’s modifications to San Diego’s hugely popular “Spaces as Places” outdoor dining program, first introduced as a temporary measure at the height of the pandemic to help restaurateurs boost business amid an on-again, off-again cycle of indoor dining closures.
The program was such a success that the City Council made it permanent in 2021, codifying a number of design and safety regulations that allow restaurants to install platforms for seating along unpainted, yellow or green curbs as long as they are at least 20 feet away from an intersection, street corner, alley or driveway.
Specifically affected by Monday’s vote is a narrow strip of the city’s coastal zone known as the “beach impact area.” It is defined as a stretch of coastline that begins at the northern end of Torrey Pines State Reserve and runs about 15 miles south to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park. For most areas of the zone, the boundary extends inland approximately a quarter of a mile or more. The commission has described that area as a part of the city where there are chronic public parking shortages.
While permanent outdoor dining regulations are in place citywide, they have not been in effect for the city’s coastal zone because they had to first pass muster with the Coastal Commission.
“The Coastal Commission rules are what they are,” Council President Sean Elo-Rivera said Monday. “Closing streets can actually be effective for improving business. This is one of the most San Diego-appropriate programs we could possibly have. It works in Cincinnati, so how could it not work in San Diego?”
While city planning staff advised the council that it had spent weeks in discussions with planners at the Coastal Commission in hopes of softening the restriction, the parking condition remains. However, it did get the commission staff to back off on its original plan to impose the parking removal requirement in some areas of the coastal zone outside the beach impact area but within a quarter-mile area of the coast. Some areas that could have been potentially affected include portions of Point Loma, a southern portion of La Jolla near the village and cove, and some areas along San Diego Bay, such as the Embarcadero, said San Diego spokeswoman Tara Lewis.
“City staff’s position was and is that a car-centric focus on loss of parking spaces discounts the many co-benefits of the Spaces As Places (outdoor dining) program, including increased opportunities for the public to access and enjoy coastal communities,” planning staff said in its report to the council.
Particularly affected by the new regulation is a stretch of Avenida de la Playa between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata that has been closed to vehicular traffic during certain hours since July 2020
Darren Moore, owner of Shore Rider Bar and Dough Mama Pizzeria on Avenida de la Playa, told the council that the street closure and al fresco dining on the avenue has been a success.
“The current closure of Avenida de la Playa has not hindered beach access whatsoever. As a matter of fact, it’s improved beach access,” said Moore, who heads the La Jolla Shores Business Association. “We have more guest counts and visitors to Avenida de la Playa, and that is proof the street closure works. Any opposition to the closure is a minority.”
If Moore is unable to find any nearby replacement parking nearby, he said he’d have to shut down his outdoor dining area that seats about 40.
Any replacement parking for restaurateurs affected by the new requirement would have to be within 1,200 feet of the lost spaces, Lewis said.
La Jolla Shores resident Tricia Riha told council members that the time has come to finally reopen Avenida de la Playa.
“The Coastal Commission has been right about their findings,” Riha said. “If it’s open, it will still be beautiful, there will still be restaurants there. There were cafes before the pandemic and there will be cafes after it is opened. Three years we have been waiting for you all to make some kind of plan for this area. I encourage you to back the Coastal Commission and to open the street as soon as possible and give us a date.”
Now that the council has acted, businesses throughout the coastal zone can soon finalize their applications for permits for existing and new outdoor dining areas.
Businesses must secure special two-year permits and pay fees for the right to erect dining structures in the public right of way. At the time the new parking replacement condition came up before the commission last year, the general manager of the Baja Beach Cafe in Pacific Beach said he feared it could thwart plans to upgrade and retain the restaurant’s streetary, which takes up five parking spaces and seats 60 patrons.
City officials say they expect once the new Coastal Commission conditions are finalized, the outdoor dining rules could go into effect for the coastal zone by July.