SOLANA BEACH — Restaurants in Solana Beach that have come to rely on outdoor dining to keep their businesses afloat as a temporary COVID-19 measure may soon have a pathway to maintain these exterior areas permanently.
With the city’s current temporary use permit allowing outdoor dining set to expire at the end of the year, the Solana Beach City Council agreed at its Wednesday meeting to extend it once more to last through the end of 2023 — when the state’s conditional COVID-19 outdoor dining measures will also end — and to work on establishing a permanent policy in the meantime.
“We do recognize the vibrancy that this has brought to our community, the many benefits it has brought to our restaurants, our residents, and our visitors,” said Mayor Leesa Heebner. “We are here tonight because if we weren’t here tonight to discuss this, it would expire and go away.”
The city has approved 33 conditional use permits for businesses to hold operations outdoors in the past three years, 24 of which were for outdoor dining, according to a staff report. As of November, just 13 businesses continue to offer outdoor dining, including Pizza Port, Lofty Coffee, Homestead and Fish Market.
Marie Brawn, who co-owns cafe and community market Homestead on South Cedros Avenue with her husband Jamie, said being able to offer outdoor dining was the main thing that prevented them from going out of business during COVID-19.
“The only reason my husband and I are still business owners here in Solana is because of this outdoor permit and all the support the community has shown us as a family and a business,” Brawn told the Council. “We need this, so please continue to support us and make this permanent for all of us.”
The City Council received dozens of additional written comments from community members and restaurant owners and a petition supporting a permanent policy.
City Manager Greg Wade shared some of the elements that should be considered in a potential permanent policy, including requirements for maintaining a clear path on sidewalks, providing a standardized boundary for the outdoor area, ensuring ADA access, encroachment permits and design characteristics.
City staff is also referring to the city’s existing municipal code section, which outlines permit requirements for sidewalk cafes. However, a staff report states that the city has not issued any permits through this process in nearly 30 years, likely because it requires the business to offer one parking space per 100 square feet, with limited exceptions.
These restricting parking requirements were not in place for restaurants offering outdoor dining during COVID-19, permitting many more businesses to take advantage.
“From a very bad thing, COVID, I think something very good did come, and that’s the outdoor dining,” said Councilmember Kelly Harless.
Wade said the city had received very few complaints about outdoor dining, except for a few concerns about impacts on parking, blocking the public right of way, and excess noise.
Councilmember David Zito said he would like to see more enforcement regarding keeping the public right-of-way clear within outdoor dining areas.
“I still find it troubling how often I’ll be walking down a sidewalk and run into a heat lamp in the middle of a walking area,” Zito said. “I think we need to get a little bit better about our enforcement and making sure these areas are well monitored and being used appropriately.”
Harless added that the policy should consider how outdoor dining in certain areas can impact nearby residences. Harless said she has sometimes had trouble finding parking near outdoor dining setups in her neighborhood.
Zito and Councilmember Jewel Edson, both members of the city’s business liaison committee, committed to working on a subcommittee with local business owners and city staff to develop a permanent policy in the future.
“I think it will take most of the year next year to work through it,” Zito said.