Puesto La Jolla restaurant seeks to extend outdoor dining on Wall Street parking spaces for five years

Puesto La Jolla has applied for a placemaking pedestrian plaza for five years.
Puesto La Jolla has applied to keep the outdoor dining area on the parking spaces outside its Wall Street location for five years.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Puesto La Jolla restaurant in The Village has applied for a coastal development permit that would keep its current outdoor dining area, built on the parking spaces outside Puesto’s Wall Street location down to Herschel Avenue, as a “placemaking pedestrian plaza” for up to five years.

According to project details described by the San Diego Development Services Department, the plan includes “a 1,278-square-foot deck that covers nine existing angled parking spaces in the public right of way at 1026 and 1044 Wall St.,” a 0.63-acre site.

The 1026 Wall St. address is Puesto’s; 1044 Wall St. is the site of Marisi Italiano, a restaurant under construction and owned by Puesto.

A pedestrian plaza, also known as a parklet, is a temporary structure built over parking and other public spaces.

Placemaking is the “temporary use of public right of way and private property that activates streetscapes by enhancing the pedestrian experience and providing neighborhood-serving activities,” according to a city informational bulletin.

City spokesman Scott Robinson said that “while the applicant might be able to place tables in the proposed placemaking pedestrian plaza, the use of any amenity in the plaza would not be exclusive. If approved, all amenities must remain publicly accessible,” meaning tables or other equipment would be open to the public.

Nick Sandvig, director of construction for Puesto, declined to comment until the city completes its review of the project.

Marie Biaggi, an architect with OBR Architecture and listed as the applicant for the project, did not respond to requests for comment.

But Dave Abrams, chairman of the La Jolla Traffic & Transportation Board, said the idea of permitting the Puesto parklet for five years “raises a whole lot of questions.”

The purpose of parklets was to alleviate the effects of the indoor restrictions imposed on restaurants due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Abrams said. It was “an effort to keep them alive, because you couldn’t do interior seating. They were approved on a temporary basis, for the duration of the COVID crisis.”

Currently, such permits are set to expire in August, unless the City Council votes for an extension.

“We’re talking about ... nine crucial parking spaces in the heart of The Village,” Abrams said. “It seems like a total windfall to the restaurateurs — at no expense whatsoever they’re going to take up over a half-acre of land and obliterate nine parking spaces.”

Still, he said, “maybe [the five-year plaza is] a good thing. These things provide vibrancy and energy and enjoyment for residents and add much to The Village.”

Puesto's proposal to keep a pedestrian plaza on Wall Street for five years raises concerns for some community leaders.
Puesto’s proposal to keep a pedestrian plaza on Wall Street for five years raises concerns for some La Jolla community leaders, such as the precedent it might set for other local restaurants.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said he was an early supporter of placemaking in the public right of way and was supportive of the legislation that enabled it. “If done thoughtfully, public placemaking pedestrian plazas can help activate The Village and The Shores,” he said. “I look forward to hearing more about this specific proposal.”

Abrams and Diane Kane, president of the La Jolla Community Planning Association, said they’re concerned about setting a precedent for other local restaurants.

“We have some concerns and we’re seeking additional information,” Kane said.

“We’re trying to figure out how does this fit into a larger context,” she said, noting that plans are in the works to close a portion of Wall Street to vehicle traffic, much like the outdoor dining program on Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores.

The Puesto proposal will make the rounds at various community group meetings starting Monday, April 12, with the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance Committee.

It also will be discussed at the La Jolla Village Merchants Association meeting Wednesday, April 14, according to LJVMA Executive Director Jodi Rudick, who said “we are researching this project.”

Abrams said the matter will be discussed by the Traffic & Transportation Board on Wednesday, April 21.

Kane said she is curious to “get some public feedback to see what the community thinks.” ◆