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San Diego looks to speed up coastal permitting for ‘Spaces as Places’ outdoor dining and gathering program

The outdoor dining program on Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores has been in place since July 2020.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The city asks the California Coastal Commission to allow it to issue coastal development permits for the permanent program in hopes of beating the July expiration date for current temporary permits.

Facing a looming deadline and fearing the extensive time it might take for necessary permits to be issued, the city of San Diego is trying to expedite the process for its “Spaces as Places” program by asking the California Coastal Commission to allow it to be the agent that issues coastal development permits for it.

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

Currently, businesses in San Diego’s coastal zone, which includes La Jolla, that apply for a Spaces as Places permit must get a coastal development permit from the Coastal Commission.

Many restaurants and some other businesses currently have permits for temporary outdoor business operations, or TOBO, that were granted for them to operate outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic to enable social distancing and ventilation.

But with those permits set to expire July 13, the city hopes to assume the ability to issue permits to help businesses transition from TOBO permits to permanent Spaces as Places permits before the original permits expire and thus prevent their temporary outdoor spaces from being taken down.

On Feb. 10, the Coastal Commission approved a time extension of up to a year to hear the Spaces as Places program to allow for the city and commission staff to work toward shifting permit granting authority.

“After the [commission] certifies the Spaces as Places program and coastal development permit authority is delegated, coastal development permit applications [would] then be reviewed and acted on by the city,” said city Planning Department spokeswoman Tara Lewis. “City and CCC staff are working together on the item to bring it to the Coastal Commission before the TOBO permits expire in July.”

Should a business not obtain a Spaces as Places permit before the temporary one expires, it would need to take down any outdoor structures authorized under the TOBO permit, a city spokesman told the La Jolla Light.

That is a concern for businesses along Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores, where one block has been closed to vehicles during certain hours since July 2020 so restaurants can set up tables and chairs on the street. The program can remain in place through the end of the year, but La Jolla Shores leaders are looking to make it permanent under Spaces as Places.

Area resident Patricia Riha spoke out to the Coastal Commission against permanent outdoor dining in La Jolla Shores.

“It was a good idea during the pandemic … and will stay until Dec. 31, and I think that is ample time for use of the street that goes to the beach, the boat launch and all the parks in La Jolla Shores,” Riha said.

Five types of spaces could be permitted under Spaces as Places: 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,” or outdoor spaces created in areas of a street formerly dedicated to parking. Streetaries previously were referred to as parklets.

Streetary permits are more substantial than TOBO permits and “may require substantial investment to comply with streetary regulations,” according to the city.

Though Spaces as Places is considered a permanent program, permits are to be reviewed once every two years. Learn more at sandiego.gov/development-services/permits/spaces-as-places.