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‘This is personal for us’: Puesto La Jolla management responds to criticism of ‘placemaking plaza’ proposal

Puesto La Jolla has applied to extend the current use of parking spaces outside its Wall Street location up to five years.
Puesto La Jolla has applied for a “placemaking pedestrian plaza” that would extend the current use of parking spaces outside its Wall Street location for up to five years.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

As the La Jolla community continues to weigh in on Puesto’s proposal to extend the use of adjacent parking spaces on Wall Street for outdoor dining for up to five years, the restaurant’s management would like its turn.

“Disheartened” by the “naysaying,” co-owners and brothers Eric and Alex Adler and director of construction Nick Sandvig sat down with the La Jolla Light to talk about the progress of the plan and respond to some of its harsher critiques.

Puesto has applied for a permit from the city of San Diego to have a “placemaking pedestrian plaza” where its current outdoor dining structure sits. The current structure is limited to Puesto customers, but the placemaking plaza would be for community use.

The plan includes a 1,278-square-foot deck covering nine one-hour 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.

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.”

As the idea circulated at local community planning groups, concerns were raised about the loss of parking and the precedent it might set.

But Sandvig said the precedent may already have been set because the type of permit (pedestrian plaza) for which the restaurant is applying already exists.

“We’re not asking for special exemptions or permissions,” he said. “The city put together the application that we have applied for, and we have abided by all the guidelines the city put together. It’s a new thing, but it is available to anyone in the city. It’s taken some time to get the approval and finalize the review from the city because it is such a new thing. We are not using any loopholes or anything.”

To convert the structure from one that allows additional outdoor dining as part of the city’s Temporary Outdoor Business Operation permit program (started last year to help businesses survive the COVID-19 pandemic) to one that would be open to the public, Sandvig said Puesto must add a wheelchair access ramp and another set of stairs. It has been dubbed the “guinea pig” for how this type of placemaking could work citywide.

Outdoor dining patios, corrals and parklets that have become familiar sights in La Jolla will be allowed to remain until summer next year following a May 18 vote by the San Diego City Council.

“What is there now, with the additions to comply with building codes, is included in the permit,” Sandvig said. “I can’t say what else will stay or go because they haven’t gotten final approval from the city.”

He said he also is waiting for instruction on how to make it clear the structure is for community use.

The date when the city said it would issue a decision on the permit has “come and gone,” Sandvig added.

“I don’t have all the answers and the city doesn’t have all the answers,” he said. “We submitted this in October and here we are almost in June. And we’re not talking about a building. But it is taking so long because they don’t have all the answers.”

He said management has heard positive and negative comments about the plan.

“Some people see this as something that will enliven the community and bring some life front and center,” Sandvig said. “There are a lot of entrepreneurs that say people in front of a business is a good thing for that and the surrounding businesses; more activity is a good thing. The opponents are focusing on parking, but no one has brought any alternatives forward. It’s been a lot of naysaying.”

The La Jolla Village Merchants Association has supported the project, writing a letter to the city backing the placemaking plaza. Other community groups have voiced some apprehension.

“We understand there are people with different opinions and interests, so we let that be,” Eric Adler said. “But we’re willing to make adjustments to make it look nicer. We work with the local community, we went to La Jolla High, we live in La Jolla, we donate to local youth groups and charities ... our kids go to school here, so for us, this is personal. We need people to understand we are just applying for a permit, but the [opponents’] tone has been so aggressive.”

Architect Marie Biaggi showed plans related to Puesto's application for a five-year pedestrian plaza on Wall Street.
Architect Marie Biaggi showed plans last month related to Puesto’s application for a five-year placemaking pedestrian plaza, similar to what exists now on Wall Street.
(Courtesy)

He said the reason Puesto applied for the permit was to provide a buffer between when COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted (June 15) and when customers are more comfortable with dining and socializing, as they were before the pandemic.

“People talk like the pandemic is over. We’re making progress, but our guests want to dine outside,” Adler said. “Our guests are still nervous. That’s one of the reasons [for the five-year permit request]. ... We don’t know how long it’s going to take before we are completely through this and people aren’t even thinking about it, but we aren’t there now.”

Further, he said, having placemaking plazas and more innovative spaces will bring more people to La Jolla, to the benefit of all merchants.

“Having more people and more diners in La Jolla will bring more people to retailers,” he said. “We want there to be more and many reasons to come to La Jolla. … We want the Museum [of Contemporary Art San Diego] back open and concerts to resume. If there are more reasons to go to Girard Avenue, it’s good for us, too.

“No one can do this alone. If you look at other areas of San Diego, they have more people and are more active and we want to get that back. That means more things happening in La Jolla and more reasons to come to La Jolla.”

Acknowledging the blowback about the loss of parking, the Puesto team sees this as a start to increasing the use of off-street parking.

The La Jolla Village Merchants Association has created a website, parklajolla.com, dedicated to helping people find parking. Much of it is in paid parking garages.

“There is plenty of [paid] parking in La Jolla; we just need to get more accustomed to using it,” Sandvig said. “The Village needs to evolve to keep up.”

Saying that three parking garages around The Village are “mostly empty,” Alex Adler added: “As a La Jollan, it’s been disappointing to see the backlash. To hear they would want a business to suffer because of parking is crazy. This is personal for us.” ◆