Outdoor dining coming to La Jolla? City to consider proposal for Wall Street

La Jolla's Wall Street may be closed in the evening for outdoor dining under a proposal considered by the city of San Diego.
La Jolla’s Wall Street may be closed in the evening for outdoor dining under a proposal being considered by the city of San Diego.
(Ashley Mackin-Solomon)

Discussions are underway at the city of San Diego to close La Jolla’s Wall Street for outdoor dining as part of plans for reopening restaurants as coronavirus-related restrictions ease.

An emergency ordinance that would relax some regulations to close the street in The Village is set to be heard by the City Council by the end of June.

“In response to the COVID-19-induced pandemic and subsequent health and safety guidelines, city staff is working to allow expansion of outdoor dining and retail within the public right of way, private parking lots and public space and parks,” according to a memo by Elyse Lowe, the city’s Development Services Department director.

“To support the economic vibrancy of our neighborhoods, the city proposed to bring forward temporary municipal code changes to streamline the processes during the emergency declaration,” the memo continued.

One of the changes being looked at is “waiving special-event permit application and review fees to facilitate street closure for outdoor dining and retail opportunities.”

In La Jolla, that could include Wall Street in The Village. The proposal, spearheaded locally by resident Ed Witt, would allow restaurants to place tables on the street for customer use in the evening as a way to increase the number of patrons served while still meeting San Diego County Department of Environmental Health guidelines.

Under recently implemented county guidelines, restaurants may offer dine-in service if they space tables at least six feet apart and follow other requirements.

“If we don’t secure that our restaurants prosper, I think all the retail is going to dramatically suffer,” Witt said. “If we were to move a lot of these restaurants’ capability to the street, they could have six or 10 feet between tables and offer a safe, enjoyable experience. I believe it would help build volume so the restaurants could prosper. Other forward-thinking cities around the world are putting tables outside at night, and we are so fortunate that we could do this year-round.”

Witt is working with the La Jolla Village Merchants Association and the city of San Diego to move the idea forward.

While noting that nothing formal has been decided yet, Merchants Association Executive Director Jodi Rudick said: “Something creative and innovative is going to happen on Wall Street, that is the goal. The logistics and operations are being explored. All other business improvement districts are asking the same questions: How to do we help our retailers and restaurants survive and thrive during a global crisis?”

Witt said the time to get this project going is “now.” “Restaurants are opening now and I would like to see La Jolla be on the forefront of this,” he said.

One thought is to have specific tables for each nearby restaurant; another is to have tables open for anyone.

“If we don’t try something, we’ll never know if it works,” Witt said. “It is worth the effort, and I think the city is going to be very cooperative. [City Council member] Barbara Bry’s office has been responsive and willing to work with us.”

In her weekly COVID-19 newsletter, Bry, whose council district includes La Jolla, wrote that “closing streets to cars will provide restaurants with outside dining areas that will allow them to serve more customers while adhering to new seat spacing regulations.”

Wall Street, between Girard and Ivanhoe avenues, is home to eight restaurants, including those in La Plaza La Jolla.

Witt said there likely would be shared responsibility for sanitation between the restaurants and another entity. Witt is president of Enhance La Jolla, which administers the La Jolla Maintenance Assessment District. However, he is presenting the idea as a resident and has not given anything to the board for consideration.

A similar idea for La Jolla Shores would close a restaurant-heavy portion of Avenida de la Playa to vehicle traffic after 5 p.m. The plan, approved during the La Jolla Shores Association’s May 13 meeting, would put platforms in parking stalls for “restaurants to extend their serving areas and keep tables farther apart,” board member Phil Wise said. ◆