La Jolla PDO Committee ponders possible rule changes for outdoor dining and building uses

In July, Beaumont’s restaurant in Bird Rock built a “parklet” for outdoor seating on its adjacent parking spaces.
In July, Beaumont’s restaurant on La Jolla Boulevard in Bird Rock built a “parklet” for outdoor seating on its adjacent parking spaces.

In researching how La Jolla’s Planned District Ordinance — or blueprint for development — may be updated in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the PDO advisory group discussed three areas of focus on Nov. 9: outdoor dining, converting office and retail space into residential, and even allowing three stories in The Village. The ideas are preliminary and no vote was taken or scheduled.

The PDO is part of the building code for the city of San Diego, which undergoes revisions once every few years. The next review cycle starts in January.

The Planned District Ordinance Committee reviews projects for conformance to La Jolla’s development blueprint. In seeing how many vacant storefronts have emerged in The Village, Chairwoman Deborah Marengo asked board members to walk The Village to “see what’s working and what’s not” with the current code.

She noted that several “high-profile” retailers have shuttered recently, such as Sur La Table and Kate Spade, and how limited the PDO is with what could go in their place. The PDO currently indicates that 50 percent of ground-floor units must be retail.

Diane Kane, who is leading a La Jolla Community Planning Association ad-hoc committee that also is looking into changes to the PDO, questioned how much vacant office space and ground-floor retail space is in The Village and whether any of it could be turned into residential. (The two groups are working together to draft proposed changes to the PDO.)

PDO Committee member Brett Murphy said he “really would be a fan of opening up some of these regulations for commercial real estate owners because the 50 percent ground-floor retail requirement [is restrictive]. … I think the pandemic has opened the eyes of real estate owners because when retail isn’t open, they can’t make money, but if people are working from home, they can still pay rent. So we have to look forward.”

The board agreed to look into opening up the ground-floor retail requirement but limiting it to uses like residential so it is not used for something like storage space that would be closed to the public.

In discussing restaurants, Marengo said the PDO is “restrictive” when it comes to outdoor dining but that several restaurants have taken advantage of the “parklet” system to stay open during the pandemic. That system, which allows restaurants to take over some of the parking immediately outside their business to place tables and chairs, has been granted until September 2021.

She suggested people have become more comfortable with or even developed a preference for outdoor dining, which has helped many of the businesses succeed.

PDO board member Bob Steck said Isola Pizza Bar on Girard Avenue has done a “great job” of expanding its outdoor dining option and could serve as a model for other restaurants in the area.

“What ... if [the San Diego Department of] Development Services comes along after COVID has passed and says, ‘OK, no more parklets.’ What is our plan?” Marengo asked.

One idea is to provide a mechanism for businesses to place tables and chairs outside “all over, like they do in Europe, rather than in one small area,” she said.

“If we can make The Village more of a live/work place, retail and restaurants will thrive,” Marengo added. “So that is something we should look at.”

Another idea, however, raised some eyebrows.

Marengo introduced the possibility of increasing building allowances to permit 2½ or three stories in new projects in La Jolla as long as the overall building height remains within 30 feet, in accord with Proposition D from 1972, and the upper floors are stepped back to not be visually obtrusive.

However, board member Gail Forbes said the prospect of introducing three stories would mean “a fight on your hands” and she would “avoid that until we are in a depression or something.”

In 2006, the community debated whether to allow three stories within 30 feet after a project was proposed in Bird Rock. Those in favor of changing the PDO to allow that said the update could help enhance The Village; those opposed said it would cause rampant commercial development. In certain areas of La Jolla Shores, three stories within 30 feet are allowed, depending on zoning allowances.

Kane said there is a “new generation” in La Jolla from the ones that previously opposed three-story buildings. “It’s worthwhile to raise these things periodically just to get a temper of the times,” she said. “Maybe we all get burned at the stake again, but unless you ask you are not going to find out.”

The La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee next meets, pending items to review or discuss, at 4 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14, online. Learn more at ◆