Not so long ago, at least one business in Carlsbad paid $1,200 to take over a parking spot so that it could operate outdoors (plus a $381 onetime fee), despite the fact that the coronavirus pandemic had crushed the restaurant's finances already due to closures.
Now though, Annie Rammel, the owner of Oak + Elixir in downtown Carlsbad, can expect to get back more than $5,000 in outdoor-dining-permit fees she paid out to the North County city. NBC 7's Steven Luke first covered Rammel's story back on Aug. 5:
Many cities around San Diego County have been waiving such fees, which is why parklets now dot the landscape from the Gaslamp to La Jolla to Oceanside.
Rammel's restaurant didn't have any existing patio seating or a private parking lot, which put her at a disadvantage compared with other restaurants that were able to make the transition to outdoor dining more easily.
On Thursday, Rammel graciously commended the city officials who had worked on this issue.
"They said they were sorry it took so long but it paved the way for all the small businesses to achieve this," Rammel said, who told NBC 7 that she had not yet received her reimbursement.
Still it was not easy task navigation the process, Rammel said.
"It definitely was hard and challenging, and I actually told the city that I was extremely happy that they were able to approve the reimbursement of the fees as well as making it so nobody has to pay the fees for the future during COVID," Rammel said. "Because that's going to allow any small business to have the opportunity to survive this."
City of Carlsbad Chief Innovation Officer David Graham said in early August that Oak + Elixer was the first business to get permitted to use public on-street parking spots and the city council had to approve the temporary suspension of certain regulations that applied to outdoor business operations. In total, the city has collected between $7,500 and $8,000 for the outdoor activation permits, which will now be refunded to business owners.
The fees are now temporarily suspended until Feb. 28, 2021, or the duration of the local COVID-19 pandemic emergency, whichever is later, Carlsbad officials said in a news release issued Thursday.
“Small businesses in Carlsbad can get permitted to operate outdoors temporarily or long-term without being charged any fee through the end of the health emergency," Graham said Thursday in an email to NBC 7. "This is good for our residents and visitors because they can shop and dine in safe environments outdoors and good for shops, restaurants and personal care services because they have more opportunities to operate outside which is crucial during this uncertain time.”
Even with the refund, the opportunity for an outdoor space has been costly to Rammel, who paid $7,000 for her temporary streetside patio. With this week's move onto the Red Tier, Oak + Elixir can also seat diners inside for up to 25 percent of its capacity but won't be allowed to completely fill her indoor tables until scientists develop a vaccine. At that point, she'll have to dip into her pocket again, this time to dismantle the outdoor area and have it removed.
Carlsbad officials said Thursday that more than "70 businesses have been permitted, including restaurants, fitness classes, hair and nail salons, spas and churches."
Rammel said she already knows where she's spending that money.
"We're actually going to invest it into some outdoor chairs and furniture for the patio because the patio has been so successful and our current staff has to come in an hour before their shifts just to put the furniture outside," Rammel said.
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