Councilman LaCava to request extension for temporary outdoor dining permits in the coastal zone

The La Jolla Shores outdoor dining program on Avenida de la Playa is pictured in September.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

With the California Coastal Commission set to consider the city of San Diego’s Spaces as Places program next month, City Councilman Joe LaCava (whose District 1 includes La Jolla) plans to request an extension of temporary outdoor dining permits that many businesses in La Jolla and elsewhere have used amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The extension, which would apply only to coastal communities, is intended to provide more time for businesses that might need to change their operations to be in line with new rules.

The Spaces as Places ordinance introduces regulations and design requirements for temporary spaces transitioning to permanent. The City Council approved the program in October and the city began accepting permit applications in January.

Businesses with an existing temporary outdoor operations permit have until July 13 — when those permits are set to expire — to comply with the new regulations.

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 old permit.

The ordinance also would require a change to Local Coastal Programs, which serve as planning documents for coastal communities, thus necessitating review and certification by the Coastal Commission. Spaces as Places can’t take effect in the coastal zone until it is certified.

The commission is to discuss the matter during its meeting May 11-13, during which city staff will address any concerns or any modifications that might need to be made. The exact date for the Spaces as Places item has not been announced.

“That doesn’t give a lot of wiggle room for restaurants to learn the rules and file the application and get it processed by July 13,” LaCava said. “I don’t want people to be caught in the process.”

Once the Coastal Commission hears Spaces and Places, LaCava will request an extension of the temporary permits, he said.

“We’re going to wait to bring it to the City Council in June because we want to see what the Coastal Commission’s final reaction is,” LaCava said. “The extension would need to be date-certain — a month, six months, etc. — and once the Coastal Commission hearing happens, we’ll have a handle on what time frame is appropriate. We know we’re going for an extension; we just need to know for how long.”

The extension would apply to the coastal zone to “protect the temporary installations in La Jolla and the coastal communities,” he said. In particular, he noted the dining plaza created on 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.

“I don’t want to take the chance that there wouldn’t be enough time for these businesses to conform with Spaces as Places,” LaCava said. “I think [the city] intended for this to be an over-the-counter permit, but ... if there are major changes [in the new regulations], whoever is making the application would need to pivot so they can apply in time. I wanted to relieve any kind of stress point as part of this process.”

He said outdoor dining has been “a real eye-opener” in terms of how the public has responded to the changes.

“People have talked about allowing restaurants to spread to the sidewalk in the past, and to me it was one of the silver linings to come out of the pandemic to have it come to fruition,” LaCava said. “Everyone said this is great and what we should be doing in San Diego with the fantastic weather. …

“The tiny negative I hear is that the installations weren’t done thoughtfully or carefully, but that is what the ordinance takes care of. City staff has done a great job putting this together. I think this is great all the way around. We lost a little bit of parking, but it was a good trade-off.”

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.

Though Spaces as Places is considered a permanent program, permits are to be reviewed every two years. Learn more at