Proposals made to overhaul city's rules over outdoor dining

San Diego eateries pay for outdoor dining permit

SAN DIEGO - Three San Diego City Council members announced Thursday that they plan to overhaul regulations that make it difficult for restaurant owners to offer outdoor dining.

At a news conference at the OB Noodle House in Ocean Beach, Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said restaurant owners face a lengthy, expensive and unpredictable permitting process under the current city code.

One proposal calls for a "sidewalk cafe" option for restaurants, which would be allowed a single row of tables within 4 feet 6 inches of the building as long as a clear path of travel on the sidewalk is maintained,
without a barrier in between. The idea is set to go to the Planning Commission next month and the City Council's Land Use and Housing Committee -- chaired by Zapf -- in March.

"For smaller restaurants which simply want to add a few tables outside, like the OB Noodle House, fees that are upwards of $10,000 before construction costs, are an impossible ask by the city," Zapf said. "The proposal coming before my committee would significantly reduce the costs and time associated with adding a small sidewalk cafe, allowing neighborhood restaurants to add a few more tables to accommodate more business."

Sea Rocket serves craft beer and fish in North Park. Last year, owner Dennis Stein wanted to add tables in front of the restaurant to give the place some curbside appeal.

"People drive by and they want to see that activity out front," said Stein. "They want to know there's a scene there and having that patio helps provide that."

Stein and the restaurant's other owners changed their minds about the patio after they learned it would cost them thousands of dollars in fees for a complicated city permit. They'd also have to build a city-mandated barrier between the tables and sidewalk. That would mean hiring an engineer and construction totaling $25,000.

"That was beyond our budget, and we abandoned the idea of it," said Stein.

Council President Todd Gloria, who represents eatery-laden downtown, Hillcrest and North Park, said he is on board with the idea.

Councilman Kevin Faulconer, who represents coastal areas of the city, said with San Diego' great weather, the city shouldn't penalize restaurants patronized by people who want to devour their meals outdoors.

The new regulations would put outdoor dining within the reach of restaurants like Sea Rocket.

"We're going to go back and look at the cost again," said Stein. "It might show, 'Okay, let's go ahead and do this.'"

A patio would mean 20 additional seats for Sea Rocket.

The council members noted a report released by the California Restaurant Association this week that said San Diego's 3,300 eateries rang up an estimated $2.9 billion in sales last year.

The City Council plans to vote on this in April, meaning Sea Rocket and other San Diego restaurants will have outdoor dining in time for summer.

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