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Frustrated al fresco? Outdoor dining plan in La Jolla Shores hits another snag

An outdoor dining plan would close this block of Avenida de la Playa for restaurants to put tables and chairs on the street.
A proposed summer outdoor dining program would allow restaurants to put tables and chairs on the street in this block of Avenida de la Playa.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Summer outdoor dining proposed for La Jolla Shores has hit another, expensive roadblock, one that might derail the plan entirely.

The project would close one block of Avenida de la Playa between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata to give restaurants there a boost during the coronavirus pandemic by allowing them to set up tables and chairs on the street during the summer. It has been slated to begin Thursday, July 9, with the outdoor dining planned for 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays through September, with an expansion to seven nights weekly in August if the first few weeks are successful.

The La Jolla Shores Association, which initiated the proposal and has been working closely with the city of San Diego to obtain the necessary permits and complete the required paperwork on behalf of the restaurants involved, received a letter June 26 stating that the Police Department would not permit any equipment to be set up on the street if any cars remained after 10:30 a.m.

Clearing the cars would require the association to ensure a police officer would be present every morning to ticket any remaining parked cars and have them towed away. The city would charge the association for the officer’s time.

LJSA board member Phil Wise said the city would charge a minimum of three hours’ time each day for the officer’s driving time. Adding the expense of the tow truck to haul away ticketed vehicles, which also would be charged to the association, the projected cost to clear the parking spaces comes to nearly $17,000, Wise said.

“That cost makes it impossible for us to do the event,” he said. “We’re doing all this for restaurants to make money, and the Police Department just comes and takes that profit away. It’s counterproductive to what we’re trying to do.”

In an email to city special-events administrators — on which he included City Council member Barbara Bry, whose district includes La Jolla and who has supported LJSA’s efforts to push through the proposal — Wise said LJSA would have to “cease our efforts” if obligated to pay the charges for ticketing and towing cars.

Wise offered alternatives in his email, one of which is “to have the local SDPD meter maids monitor illegally parked cars each morning at 10:30. SDPD meter maids currently patrol both The Shores and [The] Village. Just reschedule their morning inspections so they will be driving by Avenida de la Playa at 10:30 those days restaurant street dining is scheduled. There should be no extra charge for this service, as these officials are already working the area.”

City representative Nicole Darling told the Light that city staff is “working closely with La Jolla Shores Association on their first application with the Special Events [& Filming] Department for a street closure to allow for expanded dining and retail opportunities. As an existing special-events process is being used to facilitate this type of street closure and expansion during COVID-19, the city is supporting permit applicants through the process as they navigate the requirements for permit approval. The process is thorough and requires adherence to city, county and state regulations related to public safety and public health. So far, two other business improvement districts have successfully been issued similar permits, and we are in the process of reviewing three more applications.”

Special-events representatives scheduled a conference call with Wise for Wednesday, July 1, after which he said he will know more about the future of the outdoor dining proposal.

Bry told the Light that her office has asked the mayor’s office to step in to resolve the issue.

“I’m frustrated. I want to figure out a way to get this done as quickly as possible so our restaurants can make a living and provide a service,” Bry said. “This is really important to neighborhoods all over the city.”

LJSA has been working since mid-April on the summer dining proposal, with Wise and association President Janie Emerson taking on multiple meetings with restaurant owners, webinars, running paperwork between businesses and the special-events division and acquiring the necessary liability insurance.

Moving forward in its quest to start summer outdoor dining on Avenida de la Playa, the La Jolla Shores Association empowered its executive board to buy liability insurance as one of the next steps.

“We wanted to have outdoor dining to help restaurants so they could go to their maximum capacity, recoup some revenue, hire back their people and keep their vendors in business,” Emerson said. “As a side benefit, it would be something fun and uplifting for everyone during this horrible time.”

Emerson said LJSA has encountered many obstacles from the city but has moved forward with all the requirements so far. “We have insurance waiting, we have a printer waiting to do the signs, we have reservations on the barricades and the sandwich boards.”

If LJSA succeeds in avoiding the towing and ticketing fees, the group will move forward with plans to begin the outdoor dining July 9, pending a City Council vote Tuesday, July 7, on waiving hundreds of dollars in fees. Those would come via a city regulation that a special-events permit application within 60 days of an event is subject to a $150 fee, plus $10 per day for up to 60 days past the application.

“We’re a nonprofit organization that lives on donations; we can’t afford to do that,” Emerson said.

If the outdoor dining plan can’t proceed as planned, Wise said, he will encourage individual restaurants to pursue parklets through the city’s Development Services Department, a system in which a structure erected over parking spaces would allow businesses to station seating for up to 45 days.

Wise said that option is less desirable because businesses with parallel parking spots in front won’t have enough space for tables and chairs.

“There’s a wonderful scene down at The Shores,” Wise said. “We want to continue it.” ◆