San Diego city leaders voted on Tuesday in favor of extending an ordinance that allows businesses to offer services outdoors until July 2022.
Temporary outdoor permits that gave so many restaurants and businesses a lifeline amid the pinch of the pandemic were set to expire for restaurants on July 13, 2021 and for other businesses on Aug. 3, 2021. So local leaders discussed and voted on extending the permits for another year. They ultimately agreed to prolong the ordinance until July 13, 2022.
“While this program was launched as a temporary solution to a devastating situation, we have seen the benefits of allowing expanded outdoor dining and shopping in our communities,” Mayor Todd Gloria said.
The news on Tuesday was welcomed in most quarters.
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"My customers are coming back, thrilled to be here," said Judy Forman, who has owned Big Kitchen in South Park for 43 hyear. "Helps me be glad that I didn’t retire.
"If there’s any good to take away from the pandemic at all, it certainly is outside dining," said South Park resident Sean Rodrigues, adding lat that he thinks the outdoor dining "has a very European feel to it, and considering our weather all year long, it would be a shame for the city if the city were to take it away."
"I think it’s important to offer the people this choice," said another South Park resident, Jennifer Jeffress. "Some people are choosing not to get the vaccine. This is a better, safer place for them to be, and to keep all of us safe."
The ordinance was first approved on July 14, 2020, by then-Mayor Kevin Faulconer to allows businesses to use sidewalks and parking spaces to offer services to customers while dining was not allowed indoors.
According to the city, 427 temporary permits have been issued since the program started. Many of the businesses utilizing the permits were restaurants like Asti Ristorante.
“For sure it is going to help a lot,” Anthony Altala, owner of Asti Ristorante, said. “Right now, on the weekend we’re able to put 30 more tables outside."
Altala has run Asti Ristorante on Fifth Avenue for 27 years. Hollywood royalty has dined here, but these days the best seat in the house is outside.
“We’d love to have it forever if we can,” he said.
With the heat of the pandemic simmering down, some think it’s time for businesses to chop their outdoor spaces. Antonio Loverso, who owned the restaurant next door to Altala's, said he misses the parking spaces.
Laverso also thinks outdoor dining lacks the intimacy of the special occasion experience he tries to create inside his restaurant, but just like mollusks, better open than closed.
“Whatever it takes for everyone to be safe and healthy,” Loverso said. “Do whatever that needs to be."
Other proponents say closing Fifth Avenue on the weekends draws more two-foot traffic instead of four wheels.
“Walking and being outside more than driving is better for a city and people's health over all,” visitor Josh Boshers said.
Public outreach on the matter will begin in June.
The city council’s extension would only apply to businesses using a valid city permit to operate outside. Approved permits must show where items like umbrellas and furniture can be placed and if a platform is requested, must specify the design and materials being used, according to the city.
A city spokesperson said that while it's not a part of the permit extension process, city inspectors intend to crack down on unpermitted structures and businesses in violation.
"The City has received numerous complaints about unpermitted structures, businesses blocking the red curb and not conforming with their original issued permit, among other violations," according to the city.
Businesses in violation will have until July 13 to rectify the issue or risk losing their permits or getting a fine.
The city of San Diego Planning Department is looking into ways to make the outdoor experience permanent. They're calling the new plan "Spaces for Places" and intend to present a proposal to city council sometime in the fall.
At the county level, Supervisor Jim Desmond said he would bring up the issue at the Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.