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La Jolla Shores weighs options for extending daily outdoor dining program in the fall

One block of Avenida de la Playa is closed to vehicle traffic to make room for outdoor dining.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The La Jolla Shores Association is looking to continue its daily outdoor dining program through the rest of the year and is in talks with city officials and the restaurants involved to determine the best way forward.

The outdoor dining project “seems to be going very well,” LJSA board member Phil Wise told the group at its Aug. 12 meeting. The program, which began in The Shores on July 22, closed Avenida de la Playa between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata to enable several restaurants and food shops to place seats and tables on the street. A 20-foot-wide pedestrian walkway runs down the middle of Avenida de la Playa, and metal barricades and signs mark both ends of the closure. Restaurants can serve from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., depending on their individual operating hours.

The program is intended to aid safety measures related to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic and salvage some of the restaurants’ lost revenue resulting from the outbreak.

The current permit issued by the San Diego Special Events & Filming Department would end the seven-day-a-week closure Sept. 27 and transition the program to Fridays through Sundays only.

“There is concern of what’s going to happen after Sept. 27, when our permit only allows us three nights a week of dining instead of seven,” Wise said. “The restaurants want to do seven nights a week through the end of the year.”

If Special Events were to extend the seven-day-a-week permit, Wise said, “there’s still the issue of the security guard who’s there from 11 p.m. to 9 a.m. His sole purpose is to move the barricades that are there in case there’s a fire on that block and fire engines have to get to that block.”

The guard costs $6,000 a month, with each restaurant paying a portion based on how much square footage of the street it occupies.

“We’re trying to get that need waived,” Wise said. “Who’s going to come up with that money?”

Another option is to “stop using the Special Events permit and switch over to ‘parklets,’” Wise said, referring to structures that are placed over parking spaces and allow vehicle traffic to pass. Parklets are approved via a permit application process through the city’s Development Services Department.

“They can virtually leave their dining facilities where they are on the street,” Wise said. “They might have to move it in toward the sidewalk, maybe a foot on each side. The big negative is that vehicles will be able to go up and down the street.”

With parklets, restaurants could “continue to dine on the street until the end of April, or when the COVID restrictions go away,” Wise said.

Parklets are “the fallback position the restaurants are looking at, but it is still the preference to keep the street closed,” he said.

In LJSA board discussion, member John Sheridan said reopening the street to vehicles “takes away a lot of the charm and appeal” of the program. Taking away the pedestrian walkway “kills it all,” he said.

“It’s not a black-and-white thing like that. It makes it similar to what’s going on in the rest of the city,” Wise said, referring to other places around San Diego where restaurants have erected parklets on parking spaces and traffic continues as usual. “It’s a negative, but it’s not a killer. It’s a different thing.”

Member Andi Andreae said: “I agree … having cars drive through there does spoil the atmosphere. I think if there’s some way to keep it a pedestrian zone, that would be highly desirable.”

Wise said that after Sept. 27, most tourists will have left and “it’ll be a lot less crowded down there.”

“I’m not pushing cars; I don’t want that. But it’s $6,000 a month” for the guard, Wise said.

Steve Hadley, representing San Diego City Council member Barbara Bry, whose district includes La Jolla, said: “I’m happy to ask why the street cannot be left open [to traffic] from 11 at night until 9 in the morning. We’ve asked some of these questions repeatedly, been told it doesn’t work. ... It doesn’t hurt to continue to ask.”

Board member Terry Kraszewski said she “talked to the neighborhood; the consensus about the outdoor dining is really positive. Everyone wants it to continue permanently. It’s saving our restaurants.”

LJSA President Janie Emerson said “it’s really been a wonderful thing for the restaurants and for the whole community, too.”

Wise told the Light on Aug. 13 that he had a meeting with Special Events director Natasha Collura and others to discuss extending the permit application to seven days a week after Sept. 27 and was told LJSA can reapply to make it seven days.

As for the requirement of a nightly security guard, Wise said he was told the rule stands. “We can’t leave a street closed permanently without the ability of a firetruck to get through,” he said.

Wise said one proposed solution was to use the Special Events permit during the day to keep Avenida de la Playa closed and use a separate permit from Development Services for a parklet, moving the barriers and opening the street at 11 p.m. daily.

A statement from the city said “we continue to work closely with the La Jolla Shores Association to explore best options for expanding dining in their community. Pedestrian plazas in conjunction with a limited street closure is currently an option being explored.”

Transitioning to a parklet system, however, creates an issue of space, Wise said. Some of the restaurants, he said, “have an issue reducing the width of their dining space. It works perfectly as it is for keeping tables six feet apart” to follow public health regulations amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“If they have to come in a foot, they might lose a whole row of tables,” Wise said.

He said it’s up to the restaurants to decide: “Do they want to continue with the street being closed seven days a week? Then we continue to hire the security guard. Or they can go and reduce their dining area, reduce the number of seats.”

Wise said he anticipates a group decision by the affected restaurants “within a couple of days.” ◆