Several restaurant owners and a group representing downtown business interests asked City Council to support outdoor alcohol service. While the council discussed the pros and cons of such actions during the Sept. 24 meeting, it directed staff to research the matter further.
The biggest hurdle is the encroachment on public sidewalks. Under the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control regulations, outdoor dining areas that serve alcohol must be separated from the public sidewalk by a permanent barrier-railings, fences or landscaped planter boxes. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires accessibility of public areas to those with disabilities. The narrow downtown sidewalks may not meet the federal threshold of 48-inches of space between the dining area and the curb according to the council.
“I’m not against serving alcohol outside a restaurant,” Encinitas resident Cheryl Perkins said. “I just don’t want a situation where I can’t navigate the sidewalk in my chair.” Perkins, who is wheelchair-bound, said the permanent railings at Vigilucci’s Trattoria, at the corner of Coast Highway 101 and D Street pose a problem for her. “I always have to cross the street to avoid the area,” she said.
Vigilucci’s and Roxy were grandfathered in after the council restricted downtown outdoor alcohol service in 2002. Apparently, staffers mistakenly allowed the two restaurants to erect permanent barriers on public right-of-ways.
For some area business owners the decision is purely economic. In a July rally, Via Italia owner Paolo Pedrazzani told a crowd that he has been attempting to get permission to sell wine at the few tables outside of his restaurant. Pedrazzani claimed that his sales were 20 percent lower than other restaurants allowed to sell alcohol outdoors.
City Council candidate Bob Nanninga said he was pleased to have the topic up for discussion. The co-owner of E Street Café said it was an issue of fairness and equity. “This is really about our downtown businesses being able to realize their full economic potential,” he said.
According to staff, 18 restaurants have sidewalk dining in the public right-of-way within the downtown area with 17 obtaining encroachment permits. The permit fee costs $150.
Gary Tucker, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, said that the playing field should be level with restaurants in Del Mar, Solana Beach and other cities allowing outdoor alcohol service.
Cardiff-by-the-Sea resident George Hadar said he was concerned with the encroachment on the public sidewalk. “Give a table and they’ll take a sidewalk,” he told the council.
Daniel Schaffer, manager of When in Rome, said the “visibility” of outdoor dining was crucial to increased business traffic. “Whether in good times or bad, every chair makes a difference,” he said.