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Council committee OKs ‘Spaces as Places’ plan for making temporary outdoor dining, retail areas permanent

Puesto restaurant's outdoor dining structure along Wall Street in La Jolla
Puesto restaurant’s outdoor dining structure along Wall Street in La Jolla is an example of a “streetary” that could become permanent under San Diego’s “Spaces as Places” initiative.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria’s program for permanently approving some outdoor dining and retail spaces won support from the City Council’s Land Use and Housing Committee on Sept. 16, bringing it a step closer to full council approval.

The “Spaces as Places” initiative will head to the full council in October. The city Planning Commission voted to support it Sept. 9.

“San Diegans have made clear how much they love the outdoor dining and spaces that arose from the COVID-19 pandemic, and I have been committed to finding a way for them to stay,” Gloria said. “This program will create an avenue for temporary outdoor structures constructed in response to the pandemic to become permanent installations, ensuring long-term options that are safe, equitable and accessible for everyone.”

Spaces as Places would introduce regulations and design requirements for temporary spaces transitioning to permanent.

A Spaces as Places design manual released before the Planning Commission meeting identified five types of spaces that could be permitted: sidewalk cafes, “social curbs” (a permanent extension of an existing curb into a parking area to facilitate different activities), promenades created by closing a street to vehicle traffic, outdoor dining on private property such as a parking lot, and “streetaries,” previously referred to as parklets.

One such streetary, at Puesto Mexican restaurant in La Jolla, is one of the most expansive — and the most controversial — in The Village. The owners have applied for a city permit to have a “placemaking pedestrian plaza” for outdoor dining for up to five years where the current structure sits on nine adjacent parking spaces on Wall Street. The current structure is limited to Puesto customers, but the placemaking plaza would be for community use, with some modifications.

The Puesto proposal has drawn opposition from residents concerned about the long-term loss of street parking and the idea that extending such temporary spaces could benefit those businesses at the expense of others.

Under Spaces as Places regulations, streetaries would be allowed where there is on-street parking at unpainted, yellow or green curbs, but must be at least 20 feet from an intersection to preserve line of sight, according to project manager Sameera Rao.

Roads with a streetary must have a speed limit of 30 mph or less, she said. Also, the streetary must be five feet from fire hydrants and 10 feet from storm drain inlets and must not be placed directly on utilities infrastructure such as manhole covers.

If located within 150 feet of a residential area, operating hours would be limited to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

A streetary permit would be valid for two years, after which it could be renewed.

In August 2020, the City Council approved an emergency ordinance allowing temporary outdoor business operations as a response to the pandemic. It allowed businesses to provide outdoor dining within a public right of way, enabling the establishments to continue operating when indoor operations were prohibited or limited due to public health orders.

In May this year, the council granted an extension on the temporary spaces through July 13, 2022.

“The Spaces as Places program will offer a variety of options for quality outdoor places that promote dining, walking, biking, public artwork and other enjoyable public interaction,” according to a statement from the city Planning Department, which designed the plan.

The Community Planners Committee, a group with representatives of each of the city’s communities, unsuccessfully requested two months to review the proposal and get input from the communities.

The La Jolla Community Planning Association made a list of recommendations to amend the plan, such as having city planners look at the cumulative impact on parking from the loss of spaces, limiting the number of streetaries and taking a more thorough look at effects on traffic flow. ◆