Could Some of Your Favorite Outdoor Dining Spaces in San Diego Soon Go Away?

Of the 453 businesses that obtained temporary outdoor dining permits, only 15 have applied for a permanent one, officials said

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Temporary outdoor dining permits -- issued by the city of San Diego during the pandemic to keep business afloat— expire Wednesday. So, the fate of many parklets that line the Gaslamp Quarter and Little Italy, is up in the air.

Dozens of outdoor dining structures line a stretch of Fifth Avenue, where hundreds of people walk for lunch each day, especially during the busy convention season.

Temporary structures were allowed to be built in 2020 with little code enforcement, when COVID restrictions prohibited indoor dining. It was a lifeline that kept many restaurants afloat during the tough economic time.

But the convenience and safety of outdoor dining is ending for some businesses that have opted out of applying for costly permanent permits.

The Field Irish Pub manager Stacy Drayne said they’ve applied for a "Spaces as Places" permit but think the city should cut businesses some slack considering this is one of their busiest times of the year.

“It’s not like the smartest thing to do,” Drayne said.

Businesses have known for more than a year that the temporary structures would have to be regulated and brought up to code. Eight businesses were warned last summer about safety hazards like heaters, improper electrical wiring and not enough space for runoff, which created unsanitary conditions. That’s part of why the city needs to get some of the structures properly rebuilt.

“Yeah. I’m one of them, to be honest with you. Because when we built it in the beginning, we didn’t know it’s gonna be permanent,” Gaslamp BBQ owner Tarik Marogi said. “So now, if we apply for it and it will be staying, then I’ll tear it down and build a new one, a nicer one.”

Three weeks ago, the city said only 25 out more than 400 businesses with temporary outdoor dining permits had applied for a permanent one. But some applications were incomplete so that number is now down to 15.

Due to the fact that businesses must have a Traffic Safety Permit to dismantle structures, a city spokesperson said many will not be torn down by this week’s deadline. The city is offering a grace period for the structures to come down, but officials wouldn’t say how long the noncompliant structures can remain in place without receiving a fine.

“Letters have already been issued directing businesses to remove their TOBOs. Failure to comply may result in a $1000 Administrative Citation,” an official wrote. TOBO stands for Temporary Outdoor Business Operation permits, which was launched in June 2020.

The new permits also come with new rules. No overhead coverings are allowed, platform floors must be even with the sidewalk and side panels facing the street must have emergency access gaps.

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