DEL MAR — The Del Mar City Council unanimously approved a number of measures to benefit local businesses hurt by COVID-19 at their September 8 meeting.
Several council members agreed the most impactful measure entailed streamlining the city government’s approval process for businesses to erect covered outdoor areas for customers.
“In anticipation of the upcoming rainy season and potential continuation of the County’s Public Health Order limiting indoor dining and potential expanded limitations on other indoor uses, the business community is inquiring about [the] ability to use temporary outdoor coverings,” according to a city staff report.
Council decided to subsidize businesses’ application fees, up to $750, to put temporary outdoor coverings on private property or in a public right-of-way. For the time being, Council also deferred the discretionary review process the city would otherwise require to approve installing more permanent outdoor coverings.
“COVID has been very tough on my business and all the other restaurants in town. The main concern that I have … is shelter for outdoor patios,” Randy Gruber, owner of Americana Restaurant, told council. “When we get into the fall and the winter, and it’s cold, and we only have 25% capacity, or even less than that, and we have to just do [food] pick-up and delivery, it’s going to be hard. I really, really feel that the restaurants need help to be able to have the ability to temporarily … shelter our outdoor patios.”
Outdoor coverings require city approval in order to ensure public safety, such as adequate “airflow and … not creating an indoor space, outside,” Assistant City Manager Kristen Crane said.
Currently, the city subsidizes application fees with some $12,000 of federal CARES Act relief, which council approved for that purpose last spring, and of which about $5,000 remain.
City Manager CJ Johnson asked the Council to bolster the subsidy with up to $10,000 from Measure Q funds. Del Mar residents approved Measure Q in 2016, authorizing a 1% sales tax to help finance utility pole undergrounding, downtown streetscaping and Shores Park upgrade planning.
Instead, the Council approved $2,500 for additional business application subsidy, drawn from the city’s COVID-19 economic uncertainty contingency fund. Though Johnson cautioned against tapping the contingency fund for more than a few thousands of dollars.
“It was established because we cut our operating budget to the bone,” she said. “We do not have any spare budget” to address unforeseen road projects, obtain grants that match city spending, or the like.
In addition to outdoor coverings, council authorized businesses to place additional signage in the public right-of-way; to serve alcohol at outdoor cafés later into the evening; and to receive city subsidies for applications to use on-street parking for dining, as well as for other uses, such as curbside/drive-thru service.
Council authorized putting $20,000 of privately donated funds toward power washing downtown sidewalks and outdoor furniture, as well as adding bonus dollars to gift cards to incentive local business patronage.