North County

Carlsbad Restaurant Owner Hit With $5,500 Outdoor Dining Permit Fee

The move to outdoor dining has been challenging for most restaurants, but none more than the owner of Oak + Elixir in the Carlsbad Village.

At a time when small businesses are just trying to survive, a North County restaurant owner says the city of Carlsbad charged her more than $5,000 for an outdoor dining permit.

"Everyone says the same thing, 'It's crazy that they're charging you that much money, it's crazy,'" said Annie Rammel, owner of Oak + Elixir in downtown Carlsbad.

Rammel's restaurant doesn't have any existing patio seating or a private parking lot, which put her at a disadvantage compared to other restaurants who were able to make the transition to outdoor dining more easily.

Instead, her only real option was to petition the city of Carlsbad to allow for temporary dining in the four parking spaces along State Street directly in front of her restaurant.

Rammel initially thought the permit would cost $381, which is the charge for a sidewalk dining permit, but she quickly found out it would be much more.

"And then it became $5,500. So, its' extremely disappointing at a time when we're this close to going out of business" said Rammel.

She said the city also took much longer than she'd hoped to approve the permit.

"We contacted them the day we found about this and we've been working with them forever since, it's going on four weeks we've been closed" said Rammel.

Rammel heard from decision makers inside the local governments of several other North County coastal cities, including Oceanside and San Marcos, which she said approved similar street-side dining requests without lengthy delays or high permit fees.

City of Carlsbad Chief Innovation Officer David Graham said Oak + Elixer is 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 apply to outdoor business operations.

Graham said the city relied on pre-COVID-19 fee structures and is now looking at how to reduce the permitting cost for Rammel and the handful of restaurant owners who may follow in her footsteps.

"There will be things to work out when you try to do new things and we appreciate Oak + Elixer raising the permit fee issue" said Graham.

Graham said the city has been very proactive in helping the majority of its restaurants transition to outdoor dining on private property by not charging permit fees and turning them around in about two days.

Oak + Elixir appears to be one of the unfortunate exceptions to the city's cost efficient and expedient outdoor permitting process.

"It's been extremely difficult working with the city" said Rammel who hopes to put the problems behind her.

The restaurant owner is now moving tables to her temporary streetside patio which she had built for $7,000.

Oak + Elixir re-opened it's doors Wednesday night, but has yet to receive any official word from the city about a reduction in the permitting cost.

Rammel hopes it will all be worth the struggle as she looks to regain lost time and lost profits.

On top of all the uncertainty, she doesn't know how long she'll be able to take advantage of her newly built outdoor dining area.

When inside dining is allowed again, she says she'll have to pay to have it removed.

"If Newsom says we can go back inside tomorrow or in two weeks or two months, then we have to tear this all down" said Rammel.

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