What’s not to love about sidewalk cafes?

The La Jolla Community Planning Association, in the words of one of its own trustees, has a public relations problem on its hands. Twice in recent weeks they’ve rejected a restaurant owner’s request for a sidewalk cafe permit for a sports bar and bakery going in at the corner of Prospect Street and Fay Avenue.

Few would argue that sidewalk cafes are not a charming amenity that adds to the ambience of our community. After all, who doesn’t love the idea of sitting in a sidewalk cafe in Paris.

A majority of the trustees voted by the book, which says there should be 8 feet for pedestrian movement between the outside seating area and the curb. A couple of them changed their votes after Oved Haskal pleaded his case for allowing Barfly and Aroma Bakery to have only a 6-foot space for a portion of his area: The sidewalk cafes are good for business and visitors and there are others restaurants like his that have smaller distances around their outside seating.

La Jolla businesses need all the help they can get these days so the planning group should be trying to find a way to aid — rather than hinder — their efforts. We just wonder why, if the city is willing to be flexible, the planning group can’t be.

They say it’s because it is important to maintain the integrity of the Planned District Ordinance (PDO), the blueprint for development in the Village. (La Jolla Shores is governed by its own PDO.)

Planning group Chairman Joe LaCava explained that the problem arises from a difference in the PDO, which stipulates the 8-foot clearance, and a section of the municipal code that allows an exception to that minimum. Trustees’ votes turned on the section of the local regulation that says when there is a conflict between the city code and the PDO, the “planned district applies.”

One of the points of contention is that other establishments have outside dining areas that have less than the required 8 feet and people want to know why Haskal can’t have his if others do. LaCava’s answer is that some of them have been granted exceptions by the city, some are violating their permit and others have no permit at all. In cases of known violations, when the CPA hears about them, they call the city’s code enforcement office and ask for action.

“We never know when they’re going to respond,” LaCava said at last week’s Promote La Jolla meeting, where the issue was raised. That’s at least in part because the code enforcement office has lost staff due to budget cuts.

Fixing the planning group’s PR problem on this case won’t be easy.

But the least that community planners could have done — after they made their “rules are rules” statement in their first vote against Haskal’s sidewalk cafe permit — was accept the city staff person’s ruling that the plan was allowable instead of forcing the business owner to spend more time and money fighting the CPA’s appeal.

The planning group trustees should draw the line in the sand on more important issues and try to help businesses when it is in the community’s best interest.