Alfresco Approvals: Proposed ease in outdoor dining permits could be a boon for La Jolla eateries

By Ashley Mackin

It might be a little easier to dine outdoors at La Jolla restaurants this summer, thanks to proposed legislation by District 2 Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, with District 6 Councilmember Lorie Zapf leading this legislative effort as chair of the Land Use and Housing Committee. Faulconer’s draft, scheduled for a San Diego City Council vote this summer, would make it easier and cheaper for restaurants to obtain permits for sidewalk dining.

Noise and alcohol rules would remain in effect under the new plan, and any requirements of the La Jolla Planned District Ordinance (PDO) would take precedence. For La Jolla specifically, Faulconer said this proposal would be a boon.

“When we think about La Jolla, one of the most beautiful places in the world,” he said. “We want to encourage people to come and visit, spend their dollars here and have a beautiful afternoon or evening outside their favorite restaurant.”

Currently, if a restaurant would like to set up sidewalk dining, it must apply for a neighborhood use permit, undergo a public review process, distribute notices and attend planning group meetings — all of which takes several months. It also involves a one-time deposit of $12,000 for restaurants in coastal areas.

“Restaurants are the No. 1 contributor of taxable retail sales in the City of San Diego,” Faulconer said. “We should be doing everything we can to make it easier for these businesses to succeed, particularly over the last several years with the recession. We live in a beautiful city with fantastic weather and (restaurant owners) shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a permit to allow their customers to eat outside.”

Matt Awbrey, Faulconer’s communication director, said the plan would change regulations to allow restaurants to get an “over-the-counter” permit for outdoor sidewalk dining, eliminating many of the steps previously required. He added that the plan would also reduce the amount of sidewalk that must be left for pedestrians from eight feet to five feet, to be in line with what is required in downtown San Diego.

“With that change, restaurateurs are looking at permit cost in the hundreds of dollars as opposed to the thousands of dollars. That’s a huge savings and cut in red tape for them,” Awbrey said.

One still-to-be determined requirement for qualifying restaurants is the time an outdoor dining area must close each night in deference to residents in the nearby neighborhoods.

“Some folks say, ‘well this is going have more people eating outside, it’s going to be loud for the community’ ... but the (noise) regulations would remain unchanged,” Awbrey said. “All the noise rules that restaurants currently must abide by would still be in effect with these modifications.”

Restaurant owners must also participate in the state’s ABC (Alcohol and Beverage Control) law public review process if they want to serve outside. And particular to La Jolla, as dictated by the PDO, railings are required around all outdoor eating areas.

Those La Jolla restaurant owners who already have outdoor dining say it is a big boost to their business. “More than half of our tables are outside,” said Dave Marrow, manager of The Cottage, 7702 Fay Ave. “It’s basically our livelihood. It’s a big time asset.”

Gabe Mauser, manager at Prep Kitchen La Jolla, 7556 Fay Ave., said there is only one concern with outdoor seating. “You have to worry about the weather,” he said. “We have an awning and can bring down some flaps (for climate control) and heaters ... But I mean, it’s La Jolla, when the weather is nice, there is nothing better than outdoor seating.”