A surprisingly low number of restaurants and cafes that obtained temporary outdoor dining permits to help them survive the pandemic have applied for a new permit under the City of San Diego’s updated "Spaces As Places" requirements.
Of the 453 businesses that obtained temporary outdoor dining permits, only 25 have applied for a new permit as of Monday, according to a spokesperson for the city.
While some business owners say they’ve yet to make up their mind on applying for a new permit, others say it will simply be too expensive and not cost-effective.
San Diego News
Get San Diego local news, weather forecasts, sports and lifestyle stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC San Diego newsletters.
“Right now, between permits and fees and all that, I’m looking at $20,000 or so. It's just not cost-effective” said Steven Galasso, who’s owned Caffe Italia in Little Italy for almost 30 years.
The temporary outdoor dining permits were issued by the city in August 2020, in an effort to help businesses reeling because of the pandemic. The city granted a one-year extension to the permits in May 2021.
But it was always clear the temporary permits would give way to future regulations, and the city began public outreach on new rules in June 2021. Then the city council approved new regulations under the "Spaces As Places" plan last fall.
The temporary outdoor dining permits expire on July 13. Businesses are now facing a decision on whether to apply for the new permits which could cost thousands of dollars, not including inspection and other costly fees.
Get updates on what's happening in San Diego to your inbox. Sign up for our News Headlines newsletter.
“It’s going to require me to retrofit what I currently have out here right now, and to get an architect to do that. There’s some ADA regulations that I’d have to abide by, so I’m looking at another $5,000 to $10,000 on top of the $20,000 so financially it doesn’t make sense for me,” said Galasso.
The new permits come with new sets of rules that will immediately impact some businesses. No overhead coverings are allowed, flooring platforms must be even with the sidewalk, side panels facing the street must have 3-foot emergency access gaps every 20 feet.
Restaurants and cafes that do not apply for a new permit by July 13 will be required to dismantle their existing outdoor dining setups, which could, in itself, prove to be extremely costly.
A manager for Puerto La Boco in Little Italy says it will cost thousands to tear down a covering on the restaurant’s outdoor dining area. The roof has several custom holes to allow trees to poke through.
Meanwhile, as business owners struggle with a tough decision, there’s frustration over the timing of the new permit requirements.
“All of us down here are just recovering from two years of no summers at all, so it would have been nice to be able to go through a full summer of sales to kind of recuperate what we lost over the last two years. I’m surprised they’re trying to implement it right in the middle of our summer season, right at the beginning of our summer season,” said Galasso.