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Update: ‘Spaces as Places’ applications being processed for outdoor dining in coastal zone, San Diego says

A customer takes in a meal on the outdoor patio at Ortega's Cocina in Ocean Beach in December.
A customer takes in a meal on the outdoor patio at Ortega’s Cocina in Ocean Beach in December.
(Sam Hodgson / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

However, permanent permits can’t be issued in coastal areas until the California Coastal Commission certifies the city’s new regulations.

With the July 13 expiration of permits for temporary outdoor dining operations three weeks away, San Diego officials are trying to establish permanent clarity about what comes next amid continued confusion, especially in coastal areas.

Chris Larson, program coordinator for the city Development Services Department, said eating and drinking establishments that have a temporary permit and an application on file for a permanent permit under the city’s new “Spaces as Places” program will not be penalized after July 13, pending review of their application. Those that don’t apply for a permanent permit, or are denied upon review, will have to remove their outdoor installations.

The city established the temporary outdoor business operation permits, called TOBOs, under an emergency measure during the COVID-19 pandemic to allow businesses to use parking spaces on city streets and other outdoor public areas to help keep them operating and limit the spread of the coronavirus. The popularity and success of such installations led the City Council in October to approve Spaces as Places to transition the temporary spaces to permanent. Businesses must comply with new regulations to be granted a permit under Spaces as Places.

The city began accepting permit applications for Spaces as Places in January. However, in coastal areas such as Ocean Beach and Point Loma, Spaces as Places can’t take effect until it is reviewed and certified by the California Coastal Commission because the ordinance requires a change to Local Coastal Programs, which serve as planning documents for coastal communities. That review has not yet been scheduled. The commission’s next meeting is set for July 13-15.

“We are accepting applications related to the Spaces as Places program everywhere in the city,” Larson said. “It is our intent to continue to review applications for Spaces as Places in the coastal areas.”

The city will not be able to issue the permits in the coastal zone until the Coastal Commission has certified the regulations, he said.

“However, it’s our intent to allow … businesses that have temporary outdoor business operation permits to continue utilizing the outdoor areas they’ve been using, and code enforcement will not occur until such time as we can either issue the replacement Spaces as Places permit or we ... determine that we cannot issue those permits because they don’t comply with the regulations adopted by the City Council or ... modified by the Coastal Commission,” Larson said.

Acknowledging that it may be some time before the Coastal Commission decides, Larson said the city is “not going to tell these businesses to remove their temporary outdoor operations. We want to have more of a continuity of their business.”

However, he emphasized that code enforcement will issue violation citations for businesses that are without a TOBO or a filed application for a Spaces as Places permit or don’t comply with certain codes, such as a prohibition on roof structures or electric wires crossing a sidewalk.

Larson encouraged businesses to file their Spaces as Places applications “in a timely manner,” as city engineers have to review the plans in order to approve them. Additionally, there will be fees for permitting and inspection, along with per-square-foot fees according to a climate equity map, Larson said.

“We are accepting applications related to the Spaces as Places program everywhere in the city. It is our intent to continue to review applications for Spaces as Places in the coastal areas.”

— Chris Larson, program coordinator for San Diego Development Services Department

Business owners in the coastal zone have expressed confusion and frustration over conflicting information about whether the city would accept and process permits under Spaces as Places before the Coastal Commission weighs in.

City Councilman Joe LaCava previously said the city was not accepting Spaces as Places applications in the coastal zone ahead of Coastal Commission review and that those businesses should instead apply for a right-of-way permit.

Larson clarified that there isn’t just one Spaces as Places permit. “Spaces as Places is a program that includes several different options for how to provide outdoor dining,” he said:

• Sidewalk cafe, which consists of tables and chairs on the sidewalk, often surrounded by a permanent railing. Business improvement districts — such as the one run by the Ocean Beach MainStreet Association — were authorized years ago to issue permits for sidewalk cafes that only have tables and chairs, Larson said. A sidewalk cafe with a railing requires a building permit because it is a permanent attachment to the sidewalk and is normally required by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to delineate where alcohol is served.

• “Active sidewalk,” in which the sidewalk is pushed out or widened into the street parking lane

• “Streetary” — the most common under the TOBO — which places outdoor dining on street parking spaces

• Promenade, which involves a street closure that makes for “more of a pedestrian mall,” Larson said

Those planning an active sidewalk, a streetary or a promenade must apply for a right-of-way permit under Spaces as Places.

• Outdoor dining on private property to replace parking spaces in a privately owned lot. This requires a building permit.

The Development Services Department has established a “small business and restaurant assistance team” dedicated to helping businesses through the process, Larson said. For more details about Spaces as Places, visit sandiego.gov/spaces-as-places.


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