Future uncertain for sidewalk, on-street dining

Posted at 5:20 PM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 20:48:12-04

Restaurant owners across San Diego say they would not have made it through the pandemic without outdoor dining, but the days for eating on streets and sidewalks could be numbered.

Super Cocina has hosted San Diegans in its City Heights dining room for 30 years. Now, it's also serving them in its parking lot and the adjacent sidewalk.

"When indoor dining was not allowed, that was our livelihood. That pretty much allowed us to continue in business," said owner Juan Pablo Sanchez.

Outdoor dining allowed Sanchez to expand his capacity by more than a dozen tables, at a time when indoor capacity is restricted.

During the pandemic, the city allowed restaurants and businesses to expand into the streets and onto the sidewalks via expedited temporary permits. It issued 415 outdoor permits to businesses, as of April 28. But on June 15, the governor plans to lift social distancing restrictions, which would set off a chain of events that would require businesses end their temporary outdoor operations.

"We definitely would be very upset about that, not just because of the fact that we're losing spaces for customers, but also because of the fact that it adds an attractiveness to the restaurant and to the area," Sanchez said.

The mayor's office says Mayor Todd Gloria wants outdoor dining permanent. This month, he'll propose a one year extension to the temporary permitting, before bringing a permanent ordinance to the city council this fall.

"Not only will it help our restaurants recover from the pandemic; it will also improve the quality of life for our residents and make San Diego even more appealing to visitors," said Dave Rolland, a spokesman for the mayor. "The Mayor is committed to working collaboratively with our restaurant community and our business districts to make outdoor dining successful going forward.”

The city permits allowed outdoor operations on sidewalks and streets. Some businesses took it a step further and built actual structures. Not all of them were permitted. It's unclear what the future would hold for these once social distancing restrictions are lifted.