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Del Mar sets fees for sidewalk cafes

DEL MAR — Del Mar restaurant owners are so anxious to add sidewalk cafes that they began planning for the outdoor eating areas before knowing how much it would cost them. City Council removed that unknown Oct. 6, unanimously adopting resolutions to establish a one-time administrative fee of $900 and an annual user fee of $2 per square foot.
The user fee, which will be used for downtown streetscape improvements, was based on an average of what other areas charge. Council members were presented with seven options that also included a one-time, per chair or a flat rate fee, as well as no fee at all, as is the case in Encinitas and Solana Beach.
Resident Bill Michalsky said he supports the cafes, but he questioned the user fee.
“I find it somewhat low, if not almost a gift,” Michalsky said. “It would seem like this space could at least yield the community a little more money … something where we get a little more value for this space that’s being given away.”
Resident Jim Watkins disagreed. “What (staff) proposed is certainly fair,” he said.
“These are very competitive rates to use an area where they (restaurant owners) are going to have very profitable tables,” Brian Mooney, interim planning director, said.
Council said higher rates could be a disincentive for restaurant owners as the goal is to encourage the addition of the outdoor cafes as part of downtown revitalization.
“I think anytime we take on a new project … it’s wise to be sort of in the middle,” Councilman Richard Earnest said. “We can always change it.
“We are, in fact, trying to encourage these establishments to do this,” Earnest said. “We don’t want to make it more difficult for them. We want to make it easier. … I think $2 works. Let’s see what happens with that.”
While the user fees compensate for encroachment into the public right of way, administrative funds will pay for staff to review and process applications. Mooney said $900 is the average of what he estimated could be $600 to $1,500.
Americana Restaurant and Del Mar Rendezvous, the two existing establishments that have sidewalk cafes, would be exempt from all fees until July 1, 2009.
“Their permit is going to be a lot simpler,” Councilman Henry Abarbanel said. “I would like to suggest a lower (administrative) fee for them.” His colleagues agreed.
“They’ve paid fees,” Councilwoman Crystal Crawford said. “It seems like they ought to get some credit for the review that already happened.”
Rather than amend the ordinance, the city attorney suggested council authorize staff to consider any prior fees paid and waive or reduce administrative fees for the existing restaurants when they apply for permits.
Adam Birnbaum, the city’s principal planner, said he contacted the owners of Americana and Rendezvous and neither “expressed a great concern” with the fees. In fact, the fees don’t appear to be a disincentive for other restaurant owners in town either. Sbicca and Jimmy O’s have already started the application process.
Permits will be valid for three years, after which council can revisit the ordinance and any associated fees. Smoking, live entertainment and amplified sound will be prohibited. The Del Mar ordinance currently does not ban the sale of alcohol, however, it cannot be served between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m.
Birnbaum said he’s been unable to get an answer from the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control regarding laws that govern alcohol sales in outdoor cafes, but Mooney said it will be resolved before the first permit is processed.
“I’m not clear that they really have a definitive program statewide at this time,” Mooney said.