Outdoor dining venues near San Diego beaches face new requirement to replace public parking they occupy

One block of Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores is designated for outdoor dining.
One block of Avenida de la Playa between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata in La Jolla Shores is designated for outdoor dining.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Many La Jolla residents object to the California Coastal Commission regulation, which they say could kill the outdoor dining program in La Jolla Shores.


Restaurants in San Diego’s beach areas are facing a tough new regulation for outdoor dining that will require them to replace any lost parking they occupy on public streets.

The new requirement, approved Dec. 14 by the California Coastal Commission during a hearing in Long Beach, threatens to upend plans by restaurateurs close to the beach who are looking to retain outdoor seating areas they had placed in the street during the COVID-19 pandemic, when mandated closures of indoor dining sharply curtailed business.

That’s what concerns Phil Wise, who spearheaded the outdoor dining program in La Jolla Shores, where a stretch of Avenida de la Playa between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata has been closed to vehicle traffic during certain hours since July 2020.

“We are going to work with the city ... as best we can to find alternative locations for these parking stalls, but it has to be achievable. We can’t be given a mandate that is impossible,” Wise said.

Restaurants would have to replace any public parking they occupy with an equivalent number of spaces. The spaces would be provided either onsite or through a shared parking agreement with a third party, such as a nearby business or residential complex that might have extra private parking.

The commission argued that without the condition on parking spaces, the public’s access to the shoreline could be impeded.

According to a commission staff report, “streetaries” (outdoor dining areas that serve as an extension of restaurants in places previously used for public parking) and off-street parking spaces converted to dining areas would be affected, specifically in the “beach impact area,” a stretch of coastline that begins at the northern end of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve in La Jolla and runs about 15 miles south to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park in Point Loma. For most areas of the zone, the boundary extends inland approximately a quarter-mile. The commission describes that area as having chronic public parking shortages.

The remainder of the wider coastal zone in San Diego would not be subject to the added regulation.

These are the boundaries of the "beach impact areas" in La Jolla.
These are the boundaries of the “beach impact areas” in La Jolla (clockwise from top left): Barber Tract, Bird Rock, La Jolla Shores, The Village, and Windansea and Lower Hermosa.
(City of San Diego)

The commission was required to weigh in because San Diego’s new “Spaces as Places” program for outdoor dining requires a change to Local Coastal Programs, which serve as planning documents for coastal communities.

Spaces as Places, which went into effect in most of the city in mid-July, establishes design and safety regulations for eating and drinking areas placed on parking spaces on city streets and other outdoor public places and provides a process for existing temporary operations to transition to permanent. Businesses must comply with the new regulations and pay fees to be granted a two-year permit under Spaces as Places.

However, the program couldn’t take effect in the coastal zone — which includes most of La Jolla — until it was reviewed and certified by the Coastal Commission.

“I would expect more than a few of these restaurants will not be able to provide replacement parking because it’s already so impacted down there and they would not be able to get [an outdoor dining] permit,” Coastal Program Analyst Alex Llerandi told the commissioners. “They would have to remove the dining area and restore the area to public parking spaces.”

The outdoor dining on Avenida de la Playa is about a quarter-mile from the shore. Llerandi said the area that is off limits to cars occupies 22 parking spaces that previously were available for free.

“[The new requirement] is going to have an impact,” Wise said. “We have some ideas of how to mitigate this, but we think the Coastal Commission has not really thought this through. One question is why they need to duplicate these spaces during the offseason when there isn’t the demand. Even during the summer, you can always find a place to park, it’s just how far you want to walk.

“I am concerned that the Coastal Commission has given us their solution with an issue that is impossible to cure. The idea of a reciprocal parking agreement doesn’t make sense in The Shores because there aren’t buildings with extra parking.”

Commission staff said the parking requirement is necessary to maintain adequate access to the beach areas, which are typically frequented by people driving by car as opposed to using mass transit.

“While the Spaces as Places program is expected to improve pedestrian-oriented amenities and promote alternate modes of transit, there are potential adverse impacts to public access associated with the program and limited information on how much of a benefit the program will have,” according to a staff report to commissioners.

The city of San Diego had not included any requirement of its own related to the replacement of lost parking but does not oppose the Coastal Commission’s new regulation.

“While the requirement to provide replacement of removed on-street parking may be challenging for some businesses to achieve, the beach impact area is a relatively small area within coastal communities that are subject to higher levels of traffic congestion and parking needs,” said San Diego spokeswoman Tara Lewis.

Tough new regulations for outdoor dining

The commission received many letters from La Jolla residents objecting to the parking replacement requirement, which they said could kill the La Jolla Shores outdoor dining program.

“As a local business of The Shores area of La Jolla, Hotel La Jolla finds it unbelievable that the Coastal Commission would consider [ending] the street dining on Avenida de la Playa over their use of a limited number of public parking stalls,” wrote Adam Lund, general manager of the hotel at La Jolla Shores Drive and Torrey Pines Road. “Hotel La Jolla hosts tens of thousands of guests each year. Our guests have provided feedback about how wonderful this walkable, accessible area is during their visits.”

“It is a shame,” said Janie Emerson, president of the La Jolla Shores Association. “This has been a very popular event and encourages walkability in the area, plus business. Not to mention the support of 95 percent of all who come here.”

This summer, however, some residents raised objections to the outdoor dining on Avenida de la Playa, saying the closure makes it difficult to access the boat ramp at the west end of the street or get to The Village.

One of them, Tricia Riha, said after the Coastal Commission meeting that “a lot of the residents who live in this beach area worked hard to open Avenida de la Playa. The parking is very important to everyone, especially people who go to our beaches. The Coastal Commission ruled for the public. There was no benefit for all of us, and promenades and streetaries in the [beach impact area] impacted public access. ... It is our street and our parking.”

Commissioners acknowledged that the city faces a delicate balancing act in accommodating the needs of restaurateurs and members of the public who wish to easily access the coast.

“I love seeing more walkable streets for sure, but I’m also concerned about the privatization of public space,” said Commissioner Linda Escalante. ◆


4:49 p.m. Dec. 15, 2022: This article was updated with additional comments.