ENCINITAS — The Encinitas City Council on Dec. 20 agreed to a two-year extension of the city’s temporary outdoor dining provisions and initiated steps to develop a permanent ordinance, dealing a blow to downtown retailers hoping to regain parking spots along Coast Highway 101.
The council voted 4-1, with Councilmember Bruce Ehlers opposed, to extend outdoor dining to July 2026 and directed staff to develop an ordinance that would permanently allow eateries to use the public roadway and private parking lots for restaurant seating.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, cities across California initiated temporary emergency relief measures to assist restaurants languishing amidst statewide health orders prohibiting indoor dining.
Since June 2020, the city of Encinitas has issued temporary encroachment permits allowing local restaurants to utilize public rights-of-way for outdoor dining. In April 2022, the council voted to extend the emergency relief measures for another 18 months.
Since then, downtown shopowners have been divided over whether to keep the outdoor dining spaces protected by large orange barricades or return to pre-pandemic conditions.
Raul Villamar, owner of Encinitas Barber Shop, has long advocated for returning public parking spots along the roadway to help non-restaurant businesses downtown. According to Villamar, businesses are losing revenue from the lack of parking.
“We’ve been asking for this to be on the agenda for years,” he said. “I’m losing money. We have cars parked on the sidewalk because we can’t find parking.”
Villamar presented photos showing empty outdoor dining areas, voicing public safety and cleanliness concerns. Villamar said a petition asking the council not to extend outdoor dining in 2022 got over 300 signatures.
But restaurant owners argue that outdoor dining has been crucial to their survival.
“Without it, we would lose all of those employees and not be able to support our vendors,” said Troy Storey of The Shanty.
Doug Sondomowicz of Encinitas Fish Shop expressed his concerns over losing staff if the city were to remove outdoor seating.
“If we lose our parklet, I will have to lay off at least a third of my employees,” Sondomowicz said.
Restaurant owner Matt DelVecchio shared the sentiment.
“The parklet is a very, very important part of our business. We probably have one to two parking spaces. And we can seat 16 people out there.”
DelVecchio said outdoor seating has helped struggling restaurants recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.
Councilmember Joy Lyndes supported making outdoor dining permanent and proposed establishing design standards that ensure safety and aesthetics without overly burdening costs.
On the other side, resident Rachelle Anderson said reduced parking has made visiting downtown more challenging.
“It’s becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to find parking in downtown Encinitas on weekends,” Anderson said.
Ehlers said he wants to protect the parking spaces in the downtown area, suggesting the city conduct a parking study before committing to a permanent loss of parking. But he supported allowing private businesses like The Shanty to use their own parking lots for outdoor seating.
The city will collaborate with consultants to conduct a coastal parking study addressing concerns related to outdoor dining. Proposed options include fee structures, maintenance agreements and space allocation structures.
One proposal entails implementing fees to cover the expenses associated with routine safety and maintenance inspections of outdoor dining spaces. These fees should align with the expected wear and tear of the temporary construction materials in these areas.
The city is also exploring the possibility of introducing leasing fees for outdoor dining in public areas, similar to the cities of Santa Monica and San Diego, which charge annual or square footage-based fees.
In addition to fee structures, the council is considering implementing robust maintenance agreements to oversee the upkeep and removal of outdoor dining structures. These agreements might include mandates for regular maintenance and repairs to ensure these dining spaces’ visual appeal and safety. The ordinance may include provisions to terminate agreements to free up parking spaces when needed.
Other options for the ordinance include limiting outdoor dining to 25% of public parking spaces per city block or requiring one parking space per 250 square feet of outdoor dining.