San Diego passes requirement for restaurants near coast to replace parking taken by outdoor dining

The outdoor dining area on Avenida de la Playa in La Jolla Shores is pictured in September 2021.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The new regulation from the California Coastal Commission will apply to a narrow stretch close to the water, renewing concerns about its effect on the street dining program in La Jolla Shores.


In a blow to many coastal restaurants, the San Diego City Council consented May 22 to new California Coastal Commission regulations that will require establishments closest to the beach to replace any parking spaces taken up by outdoor dining areas they operate on the street.

The new restriction, which is much stiffer than what is now in effect for other parts of the city, was approved by the Coastal Commission in December. The agency’s staff at the time raised concerns about outdoor seating on the street, which it argued could inhibit access to the beach areas, which are typically frequented by people driving by car.

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 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.

Any replacement parking would have to be within 1,200 feet of the lost spaces, said San Diego spokeswoman Tara Lewis.

Particularly affected by the new regulation is a stretch of Avenida de la Playa between El Paseo Grande and Calle de la Plata in La Jolla Shores that has been closed to vehicle traffic during certain hours since July 2020.

Darren Moore, owner of the Shore Rider restaurant and bar and Dough Momma Pizzeria on Avenida de la Playa, told the City Council that the street closure for al fresco dining on the street has been a success.

“The current closure of Avenida de la Playa has not hindered beach access whatsoever. As a matter of fact, it’s improved beach access,” said Moore, who heads the La Jolla Shores Business Association. “We have more guest counts and visitors to Avenida de la Playa, and that is proof the street closure works. Any opposition to the closure is a minority.”

Moore said that if he is unable to find any replacement parking nearby, he will have to shut down his outdoor dining area that seats about 40.

Alex Llerandi, a coastal program analyst for the Coastal Commission, said previously that the area of Avenida de la Playa that is off limits to cars occupies 22 parking spaces that previously were available for free.

Phil Wise, who spearheaded the outdoor dining program there, said in December that the new requirement “is going to have an impact. ... 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,” Wise said. “The idea of a reciprocal parking agreement doesn’t make sense in The Shores because there aren’t buildings with extra parking.”

The City Council reluctantly voted in favor of the commission’s modifications to San Diego’s popular “Spaces as Places” outdoor dining program, which was first introduced as a temporary measure at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to help restaurateurs boost business amid an on-again, off-again cycle of indoor dining closures.

The program was such a success that the council made it permanent in 2021, codifying several design and safety regulations that allow restaurants to install platforms for seating along unpainted, yellow or green curbs as long as they are at least 20 feet from an intersection, a street corner, an alley or a driveway.

The Coastal Commission was required to weigh in regarding the coastal zone because Spaces as Places requires a change to Local Coastal Programs, which serve as planning documents for coastal communities.

Specifically affected by the council’s vote is a narrow strip of San Diego’s coastline known as the “beach impact area.” It begins at the north end of the Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve and runs about 15 miles south to Sunset Cliffs Natural Park.

For most areas of the zone, the boundary extends inland about a quarter-mile or more. The commission has described that area as a part of the city where there are chronic public parking shortages.

City of San Diego's beach impact area

“The Coastal Commission rules are what they are,” council President Sean Elo-Rivera said. “Closing streets can actually be effective for improving business. This is one of the most San Diego-appropriate programs we could possibly have. It works in Cincinnati, so how could it not work in San Diego?”

Last summer, however, some La Jolla residents raised objections to the outdoor dining on Avenida de la Playa, which is about a quarter-mile from the shore, saying the road closure was making it difficult to access the boat ramp at the west end of the street or to get to The Village.

Shores resident Tricia Riha told council members this week that the time has come to reopen Avenida de la Playa.

“The Coastal Commission has been right about their findings,” Riha said. “If it’s open, it will still be beautiful, there will still be restaurants there. There were cafes before the pandemic and there will be cafes after it is opened. Three years we have been waiting for you all to make some kind of plan for this area. I encourage you to back the Coastal Commission and to open the street as soon as possible.”

City planning staff told the council that it had spent weeks in discussions with planners at the Coastal Commission in hopes of softening the restriction, but the parking condition remains. However, it did get commission staff to back off on its original plan to impose the parking requirement in some areas of the coastal zone outside the beach impact area but within a quarter-mile of the coast. Some areas that could have been affected include a portion of La Jolla near The Village and The Cove, portions of Point Loma and some areas along San Diego Bay, such as the Embarcadero, Lewis said.

“City staff’s position was and is that a car-centric focus on loss of parking spaces discounts the many co-benefits of the Spaces As Places (outdoor dining) program, including increased opportunities for the public to access and enjoy coastal communities,” planning staff said in its report to the council.

Now that the council has acted, businesses throughout the coastal zone can soon finalize their applications for permits for existing and new outdoor dining areas.

Businesses must secure special two-year permits and pay fees for the right to erect dining structures in the public right of way.

City officials say they expect that once the new Coastal Commission conditions are finalized, the outdoor dining rules could go into effect for the coastal zone by July.

— La Jolla Light staff contributed to this report.