CARLSBAD, Calif. (KGTV) — Many business owners are paying big bucks to move outdoors and comply with state and county health orders. One business owner in Carlsbad said she had to fork up more than $5,500 to provide outdoor dining.
"They said your option is to pay this or you don't get to go outside," said Annie Rammel, owner of Oak + Elixir in the Carlsbad Village.
The City of Carlsbad charges $381 for businesses to move onto sidewalks, but it wasn't that simple for Rammel.
"We were told that the fee would be $381. That's doable for us; we were willing to spend the money to build a beautiful patio where people felt safe."
Rammel said she needed to expand into public street parking spaces to make outdoor dining work because there wasn't enough space on the sidewalk. She saw other cities across the county moving quickly to offer low cost or no cost permits for businesses to do the same. She was hoping Carlsbad would follow suit.
The Carlsbad City Council voted to approve moving into public spaces on July 28, and Rammel got a permit days later.
That came after four weeks of being shut down and working with the city to find a solution.
"We didn’t want to just put tables on the concrete that are in parking spots next to cars driving by," she said. "We wanted to create a safe space for customers to feel like they could come in relax."
Then, the unexpected happened.
"We got a phone call from the city saying that we actually needed to pay $5,500," she said.
The city is charging $1,200 per parking space plus extra fees. Rammel requested to utilize four spaces.
"The fee for a curb café is $381 but also includes $1,200 per parking space into a fund that is used to create new parking to compensate for the loss of the parking that is converted into a dining area," said David Graham, the Director of Economic Development and Innovation for the City of Carlsbad. "Allowing one business to remove parking means the loss of convenient parking that the nearby shops, restaurants, offices, and personal care services rely upon to draw customers."
Despite the circumstances, Rammel got the permit to use four parking spots and built a deck.
"I begged and pleaded, 'please can we get a prorated amount, can we do month to month, is there any way you can work with us because you are depleting our cash flow at a time where we desperately need cash flow to survive this,'" she said.
She paid the fees in full and spent an additional $7,000 to have the temporary deck built.
"When Governor Newsom tells us we can go back inside, we have to tear it down," she said. "We don't get to keep it."
The painful costs during an already difficult time were the only solution to keeping way Rammel's business running.
"We had to pull that $5,500 from our savings," she said. "If we're not serving customers, we're not making profits, and we cannot pay our bills."
She said leaders from other cities in the county that have waived permitting costs have personally reached out to her to show support.
There may be some hope left.
"We understand that these are not normal times. So, when Oak + Elixer raised the issue of the total cost of the fee due to the $1,200 per stall payment into the parking fund, we started working on options. Whether or not that would include retroactivity for those who have already paid will be evaluated," said Graham.
"On Monday, August 10, we will bring a discussion of any fees associated with an outdoor business operation on public property like sidewalks and streetlights to the city's subcommittee on COVID-19 economic revitalization."
"I'm in a big hole, and I've gotta dig myself out of that hole, and I'm not giving up," said Rammel. "We're requesting that the city reimburse us that money, so we have that cash flow."