La Jolla Shores street dining plan heats up again; it could start July 22

LJSA board member Ed Mackey created a sample flier in anticipation of the launch of an outdoor dining program in the Shores.
La Jolla Shores Association board member Ed Mackey created a sample flier in anticipation of the launch of an outdoor dining program in the Shores.

In its lengthy effort to get an outdoor dining program started, the La Jolla Shores Association seems to have been served another course.

After conversations with San Diego’s Special Events & Filming Department didn’t end in the city forgoing a costly requirement for LJSA to pay for police ticketing and towing of cars ahead of planned closures on Avenida de la Playa, LJSA board member Phil Wise thought “we were dead in the water.”

With no resolution to a last-minute, expensive roadblock, the La Jolla Shores Association says it can’t proceed with its proposed outdoor dining on Avenida de la Playa.

On July 6, Wise scrapped a plan to close one block of Avenida de la Playa in the Shores three days a week to allow seven restaurants to place tables on the street to aid social distancing measures related to the coronavirus pandemic and salvage some of the restaurants’ lost revenue.

Two days later, Wise told the LJSA board at its July meeting that he received a call from Special Events Director Natasha Collura, who told him “we will be allowed to move forward with the street dining program. We will be allowed to keep items on the street for up to seven consecutive nights per week; we don’t have to take them down.”

Under previous versions of the plan, restaurants would have to remove items nightly after they close in order to reopen the street. That led to the need for ticketing and towing in order to re-close the street.

“It’s wonderful news,” Wise said. “Let’s move forward.”

The current proposal calls for Avenida de la Playa to be closed between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata all day every day from Wednesday, July 22, through Sept. 27, with street dining between 11 a.m. and 10 p.m. daily.

The plan allows for a second phase Fridays through Sundays, Oct. 2 through Dec. 20, should the restaurants choose.

“[Special Events is] constantly revisiting and improving our guidelines based on public safety reviews and best practices,” city spokeswoman Nicole Darling said. “Each case is unique based on the layout of the street and the need for access by emergency vehicles. When any guideline updates are made, those are applied to the permit program as a whole in order to provide equity for all of our communities in San Diego.”

The launch of the Shores outdoor dining program awaits the resolution of a few loose ends, one being waiving of permit application fees, which is slated for a City Council vote Tuesday, July 14, to follow up Mayor Kevin Faulconer’s July 7 executive order to waive permitting for sidewalk and parking lot dining. That came in the wake of a state order forcing area restaurants to cease indoor dining service for at least three weeks because of a recent surge in coronavirus cases.

City Council President Pro Tem Barbara Bry, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said the vote may “further allow restaurant owners to expand into street spaces in front of their businesses.”

Additionally, LJSA will have to submit proof of required liability insurance and state COVID-19 temporary catering authorization, per Special Events regulations.

The association also will have to hire an overnight security guard.

“Special Events has been working closely with the La Jolla Shores Association to navigate the public health and public safety guidelines of a street closure permit,” Darling said. “Based on the fire marshal’s review of the proposed plan, one security guard will be required at the east end of the street closure to allow for emergency vehicle access.”

Though specific costs for the guard have not been disclosed pending Wise’s negotiations with different security companies, they are expected to be higher than the worst-case cost for ticketing and towing cars throughout the summer, which was estimated at nearly $17,000.

However, it’s not the deal-breaker that the parking enforcement was. The restaurants will pay for the security guard jointly.

“It’s just another expense these guys don’t need,” Wise said. He has asked Shores community groups and members for donations. “The whole point is to save the restaurants.”

Tom Spano, manager of Piatti on Avenida de la Playa, said the outdoor dining program is crucial to restaurants’ success in the Shores. With the order to close indoor dining spaces, Piatti has only 14 tables outside.

“Pre-COVID, I had 63 tables,” Spano said. He had 29 tables after restaurants were allowed to reopen dine-in service in May with social distancing measures.

Closing the street per the outdoor dining plan would give Piatti 16 more tables, he said.

Spano said that if this version of the outdoor dining plan falls through, he will continue to pursue a “parklet,” a structure built over the parking spaces in front of Piatti that wouldn’t involve a street closure.

“I’ve been doing that [through the city’s Development Services Department] in tandem with what LJSA is doing, because I didn’t know which was going to come through,” he said. “I have to do one or the other.”

“We’re burning up the summer,” when Piatti makes most of its revenue, he said.

Spano said he’s already taken on many costs in addition to the loss of revenue, from insurance policies to additional outdoor furniture, and that either the LJSA plan or a parklet “is a financial layout, whether it’s buying barricades or a security guard.”

Spano said building a parklet would have to include a strong barrier between the traffic on Avenida de la Playa and the tables on the platform.

Spano added that he would take up the majority of the security guard costs because “I’ve got the majority of the space” on Avenida de la Playa, with 100 feet of property line along the street.

“I don’t think I should pay the same amount as someone who has 30 feet in front of their place,” he said.

Obstacles aside, Spano said being able to leave out tables daily instead of clearing them every night would add an element of enjoyment.

“We can make it nice,” he said. “We are envisioning a nice lattice fence, some greenery. We don’t want people to feel like they’re in a cage or it’s done haphazardly. We want to create an atmosphere.”

Spano said “LJSA has been relentless trying to help us out. They get no financial kickback; they’re doing it as great neighbors. It’s been very helpful.”

But LJSA isn’t celebrating just yet. Noting that the outdoor dining plan has changed multiple times since its inception in April, LJSA President Janie Emerson said, “Nobody pop the champagne yet.” ◆