The San Diego County Board of Supervisors is scheduled to consider a proposal that would waive a year's worth of permit fees for restaurants struggling to recover as the county eases out of the coronavirus pandemic.
The proposal, introduced by County Supervisor Jim Desmond, would waive permit fees, including the Department of Environmental Health and Quality annual permit fees, for all San Diego County restaurants for Fiscal Year 2021-2022.
Restaurants can pay anywhere from $1,000 to $2,000 for all permitting fees annually.
Desmond said at a news conference Thursday outside Phil's BBQ in Rancho Bernardo, waiving permit fees would provide necessary relief to an industry hard-hit by a year of business loss due to COVID-19 shutdowns.
"I want to make sure they survive and the ones that I've been able to stay open will survive through this next year and beyond," Desmond said.
Restaurant owners championed the idea, like the owner of El Avocado restaurant in La Jolla, Daniel La Salle, who urged the board to pass the proposal when it is presented at their board meeting on Wednesday, May 5.
"It's a symbolic gesture out of the thousands and thousands of dollars that all the restaurants and all the people across America and San Diego have lost," La Salle said. "It's a very good start and we hope that it gets approved."
Alondra Ruiz, owner of The Village cafe in La Mesa, agreed and said every bit of aid the county can give helps.
"Even if it's only $1,000 to $2,000 that they're going to take, that hopefully, they waive the fees, it really helps. Maybe it doesn't make a difference for other restaurants but it will make a difference for me," Ruiz said.
San Diego restaurants have faced a roller-coaster of a year -- among the first industries to be shut down when a statewide stay-at-home order was issued in March 2020. They were able to offer takeout only.
Then, in late May 2020, a glimmer of hope allowed them to reopen with restrictions that included mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitation measures.
But the reopening was short-lived, and by the start of July -- as COVID-19 cases rose sharply -- rollbacks were reinstated for restaurants. All indoor operations were restricted, forcing restaurants to find ways to make outdoor dining work. Bars, wineries and breweries that didn't serve food were forced to close entirely.
When the state switched to a tiered reopening system in August -- which allowed counties with lower case rates and positivity rates to reopen businesses in a phased approach -- San Diego County was one of the few counties in the red tier, allowing some indoor dining once again.
But, conditions worsened in the late fall, as cases began to skyrocket, hospitalizations neared capacity, and deaths increased. And by November, the state placed San Diego County into the most restrictive purple tier, meaning it was back to operating outdoors for restaurants.
Outdoor dining became the norm for several months, until March 2021, when COVID-19 cases finally showed signs of improvement and San Diego County was moved into the red tier. One more month and the region would move into the orange tier, meaning customers could dine inside at 50% capacity.
The county continues to ease restrictions as it makes progress on vaccinating San Diegans. San Diego County has eased restaurant and bar hour limits, and the U.S. has eased mask-wearing guidance for indoor dining for those who are fully vaccinated.
As of Wednesday, more than 1 million San Diegans have been fully vaccinated, putting the county about half-way to its goal of vaccinating 75% of adults 16 and older.