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S.D. suggests placeholder permit while waiting for coastal OK of permanent outdoor dining measure

Diners take in a meal outdoors at Ortega's Cocina in Ocean Beach in December 2020.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The expiration date for the city of San Diego’s temporary permits for outdoor dining and other gathering spaces that started during the COVID-19 pandemic is approaching rapidly. But progress toward a California Coastal Commission hearing ahead of the rollout of the city’s program to make them permanent is coming at a glacial pace.

While an extension of existing permits is not being given, the city is recommending another option.

The “Spaces as Places” ordinance introduces design requirements and other regulations for temporary spaces that would transition to permanent. The City Council approved the program in October and the city began accepting permit applications in January.

But before the measure can take effect in coastal areas such as Ocean Beach, it needs to be reviewed and certified by the Coastal Commission because the ordinance requires a change to Local Coastal Programs, which serve as planning documents for coastal communities.

Businesses with an existing temporary outdoor operations permit have until July 13 — when those permits are set to expire — to comply with the new regulations and be granted a Spaces as Places permit.

But the city is not taking Spaces as Places applications for businesses in the coastal zone because “we don’t know what the rules are,” said City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla.

The Coastal Commission has a meeting scheduled for June 8-10 in Del Mar, but Spaces as Places is not on the agenda. The commission’s subsequent meetings will be July 13-15 and Aug. 10-12.

“It is frustrating to get these rules on the books and not have them be enforceable in the coastal zone, which causes confusion for code enforcement and everyone else.”

— San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava

In April, LaCava said he would request an extension to the existing temporary outdoor dining permits to provide businesses with more time to apply for a new permit. He has since learned that is not an option.

And in February, the Coastal Commission approved a time extension of up to a year to hear the Spaces as Places program as the city sought to gain authority to grant coastal development permits to businesses in the coastal zone transitioning from temporary outdoor operations permits to permanent Spaces as Places permits.

As an alternative, the city is suggesting that businesses with outdoor operations apply for a right-of-way permit.

“By filing the application, it will create a holding zone,” LaCava said. “They will have a pending application on file so the July 13 deadline will pass and they will be OK.

“If the Coastal Commission certifies the program, we’re done. If they want changes, it has to go back to the council, then back to the Coastal Commission for certification. There is a time factor that is unknown. Once we know how this will play in the coastal zone, then the city will take applications for Spaces as Places under the new ordinance.”

Those with outdoor business operations that do not apply for the right-of-way permit run the risk of code enforcement officials asking them to remove their installations.

“We’re encouraging businesses to pursue this permit,” LaCava said. “We don’t want anyone to get caught like that.”

Spaces as Places isn’t San Diego’s only time-sensitive issue the commission has yet to review.

New regulations on sidewalk vending will go into effect in most of the city on Wednesday, June 22, but many points in the 34-page ordinance that center largely on where vendors can operate cannot be enforced in the coastal zone until after the Coastal Commission approves them.

Though the city of San Diego has rolled out new regulations on sidewalk vending effective June 22, residents of Ocean Beach, Point Loma and other coastal areas will need to wait longer — probably through the summer — to see more than two dozen rules take effect for their parks and streets.

LaCava said there are a couple of reasons for the delay. “The city has been active in passing different things … and the Coastal Commission lost staff because they were transferred to other departments to handle the COVID crisis,” he said.

The city offered to pay for an additional staff member, but “they politely said no,” LaCava said. “So we funded someone at the city to develop a relationship with the Coastal Commission. We decided the best thing we can do is have someone that just works with the commission so we can be better prepared for what they need and make things go faster.”

LaCava said city staff also has reached out to state legislators for help.

“It is frustrating to get these rules on the books and not have them be enforceable in the coastal zone, which causes confusion for code enforcement and everyone else,” he said. “So we’re trying to solve the problem.”

In addition to the two ordinances, the Coastal Commission has to review annual revisions to the municipal code. “We just got approval for the 2020 amendments, so the rest are sitting there,” LaCava said. “That’s where we are.”


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