Rules for Outdoor Dining Spaces About to Get More Strict in City of San Diego

If restaurants fail to follow new outdoor dining rules, they could lose their pandemic lifeline

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Swami's Cafe has been a staple of the North Park neighborhood for over a decade.

"We’ve seen babies grow up in front of our faces," said Jorge Sandoval, an employee at Swami's.

But like most businesses, the family-owned eatery struggled to stay open during the pandemic.

"It really impacted us," said Sandoval.

One of the main things that helped them survive was outdoor dining, the restaurateurs said.

"It made a huge difference because a lot of people were not comfortable dining in, so a lot of them wanted to be outside," said Sandoval. 

The same is true for dozens of restaurants that took advantage of the opportunity that allowed them to convert parking lots and streets into outdoor dining rooms.  

"It's definitely helping our business," said Sandoval. 

But that help is quickly coming to an end. Starting July 13, business owners who wish to keep their outdoor setups will have to apply for a permit from the city.  

Businesses who are approved will be responsible for annual fees ranging from $10 to $30 per square foot.  

On top of that, they will be charged a development impact fee, plan check, and inspection fees.  

There is also a set of requirements each structure must meet making many of the ones seen around town ineligible under the new program.

Still, Swami's owners believe the trouble is well worth it.

"It is worth it if you get the contractor to come and do a really good job, as long as it is within code," said Sandoval. "Most definitely go ahead and do it."

Swami's has already submitted their application and says they've made the required changes to their parklet.

"It's going to help us out to have that extra space outside when we're super busy inside," said Sandoval.

They're hopeful the investment will pay off when the summer rush returns to North Park.  

Businesses who neither apply for the city's "Spaces as Places" program nor remove their outdoor structures by July 13 will be subject to penalties. For more information on permitting visit the City of San Diego’s Development Services.

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