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Program for permanent outdoor dining elicits questions in La Jolla about wait for Coastal Commission approval

Businesses in La Jolla Shores' outdoor dining program want to make it permanent.
Businesses in La Jolla Shores’ outdoor dining program want to make it permanent under San Diego’s “Spaces as Places” initiative.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Two La Jolla groups discussed the merits of San Diego’s “Spaces as Places” program, with one acting to support it in La Jolla Shores amid questions from both groups about the approaching expiration of temporary outdoor dining permits.

Spaces as Places, approved by the City Council in the fall, is the city’s “comprehensive program to allow permanent outdoor dining and other community gathering spaces within areas of the public right of way,” according to the program’s website.

The initiative was developed during the COVID-19 pandemic as businesses were allowed to operate outdoors with temporary permits, enabling social distancing and ventilation, according to public health protocols.

Spaces as Places will have established regulations and a design manual for neighborhoods to “create outdoor areas for dining, walking, biking, public art, education, entertainment and other activities” intended to facilitate the transition from temporary to permanent outdoor business operations.

The Spaces as Places permits are not the same as the temporary outdoor business operation permits, which expire Wednesday, July 13.

On Jan. 12, the La Jolla Shores Association approved two motions regarding Spaces as Places during its virtual meeting.

First, LJSA unanimously agreed to support continuation of The Shores outdoor dining program on Avenida de la Playa past the July 13 expiration date.

The Shores outdoor dining program has closed one block of Avenida de la Playa to vehicle traffic during certain hours since July 2020 so restaurants can place tables on the street.

The program has applied for continued permits through July 13 in partnership with the La Jolla Shores Business Association, which area merchants formed in the summer to facilitate further permits and improvements for the outdoor dining program.

Representing LJSBA, Darren Moore, owner of Shore Rider restaurant and bar and Dough Momma Pizzeria on Avenida de la Playa, said the dining program has helped retailers on the street stay open during the pandemic and has “changed the entire landscape of the community. It’s brought all the retailers closer together, and I think it’s brought the community closer together during this time.”

He told LJSA that the business association is working on a “next version” of street dining in concert with architect Mark Steele.

LJSBA member Blake Hamerslag, co-owner of Barbarella restaurant, said the concept will feature an “upgraded gathering space in the heart of the La Jolla Shores community that will create a hub where our effervescent, lively beach town character can prosper and our neighbors can congregate to celebrate life.”

He said Spaces as Places will allow LJSBA “to make this enriched version of La Jolla permanent” and that as-yet created designs will “ensure that the environment of Avenida de la Playa accurately and closely reflects the values of La Jolla.”

LJSA board member Mary Coakley Munk made a motion that the concept presented by Moore and Hamerslag be supported “on the condition that any future plans be submitted to us at a stage early enough to make alterations.”

During discussion among board members, member Phil Wise, who has spearheaded most of the outdoor dining efforts in The Shores since early 2020, said “the plans that we will produce will all be approved by the city of San Diego” in accord with the Spaces as Places design manual.

If LJSA asks the business association “to go to the expense of doing all the environmental impact studies and conceptual drawings ... and Spaces as Places says ‘Fine’ and you guys say ‘Not fine,’ that’s going to be a tremendous issue,” Wise said. “You can’t very well negate what [city officials] say is OK.”

Steve Hadley, representing the office of San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla, said the city’s requirements for outdoor dining plazas beyond the temporary pandemic-related allowances are “going to be rather stringent.”

The motion passed, with Wise and LJSA member Rick Kent, who did not give a reason, opposed.

Wise also expressed concern about California Coastal Commission approval of Spaces as Places, which is needed locally as La Jolla is part of the coastal zone and subject to Coastal Commission regulations.

Citing a usual lengthy Coastal Commission approval process, Wise said it’s “highly unlikely that [Shores outdoor dining] will have a permit from Spaces as Places by July 13,” so it may have to pause July 14.

In the Zoom chat box for the board meeting, Hadley wrote that LaCava’s office is working with Wise and appropriate city officials “to get written assurance that reasonable time will be given to process an application for a permit after Coastal Commission approves … Spaces as Places [and] the city will allow La Jolla Shores dining to continue if that application process continues after July 13.”

At the La Jolla Town Council’s virtual meeting Jan. 13, trustee Chuck Merriman expressed similar concern about the wait time for Coastal Commission approval for Spaces as Places.

Merriman said Spaces as Places “is an excellent program” and that local businesses are eager to apply for it to be able to continue through the summer.

LaCava said “the city’s No. 1 priority with the Coastal Commission is to get the Spaces as Places ordinance approved” ahead of July 13 “so all those temporary installations don’t have to be ripped out.”

The La Jolla Town Council discusses the "Spaces as Places" program during its Jan. 13 meeting.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“Navigating the Coastal Commission … is brutal,” he said. “They’re very thoughtful [and] take a long time. If I hear we’re not going to be able to beat the temporary deadline, I’m sure you will hear talk of another extension for the temporary [business permits] so that we can do this right.”

Tara Lewis, a spokeswoman for the city Planning Department, told the La Jolla Light that the department submitted Spaces as Places to the Coastal Commission on Dec. 27.

“We are unsure how long it will take to go through the Coastal Commission, but we have been coordinating with the commission to identify it as a priority,” Lewis said.

She added that the city is requesting that the Coastal Commission exempt Spaces as Places from the requirement of a coastal development permit in the coastal zone. ◆