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San Diego works to clear the way for curbside cafes

SAN DIEGO -- In an effort to make it easier for San Diego restaurants to create sidewalk cafes, some members of the San Diego City Council joined with the San Diego Chapter of the California Restaurant Association (CRA) to pledge to reform the costly, prohibitive regulations that make doing business difficult for local restaurants.

Councilmembers Lorie Zapf and Kevin Faulconer, along with Council President Todd Gloria announced their plans at an event Thursday outside of the OB Noodle House restaurant.

According to the CRA’s local economic impact report, San Diego is home to more than 3,300 restaurants that had projected gross sales of $2.9 billion in 2012. Restaurant sales are now the largest contributor of taxable retail sales in the City of San Diego, and every dollar spent in restaurants generates an additional $0.63 spent in the greater San Diego economy.

As an industry that provides significant tax revenue to fund neighborhood services with extremely tight profit margins, the city council wanted to know if there was any unnecessary red tape that hindered local restaurants from creating one more job.

One regulation brought forward to the City’s Land Use & Housing (LU&H) Committee last year by the CRA included costly regulations to sidewalk patios. Under the current city code, restaurant owners face a lengthy, expensive, and unpredictable permitting process.

The proposal heading to Planning Commission, and ultimately LU&H, would create a new ‘sidewalk café’ option, keeping a single row of tables within 4 feet 6 inches of the building while allowing a clear path of travel on the sidewalk without a barrier in between.

"For smaller restaurants which simply want to add a few tables outside, like the OB Noodle House, fees that are upwards of $10,000 before construction costs, are an impossible ask by the City," said Zapf, Chair of LU&H. "The proposal coming before my committee would significantly reduce the costs and time associated with adding a small sidewalk café, allowing neighborhood restaurants to add a few more tables to accommodate more business."

"As the Councilmember lucky enough to represent the district with the largest number of restaurants, I am very happy to see these reforms moving forward. San Diego is the perfect place for curb cafes, hopefully next to our sexy streets and sidewalks," said Council President Gloria.

Easing restrictions on sidewalk cafes is just one of the reforms the City Council has pursued recently to assist local restaurants. Last year, the Council approved the elimination of entertainment permit fees for “bona-fide” restaurants that close before 11 p.m.

"We live in a beautiful city with fantastic weather. You shouldn't have to pay thousands of dollars for a permit to eat outside," said Faulconer, the representative for San Diego's beach and bay communities.

"Restaurants are an important part of the social fabric of San Diego, from our neighborhood cafes to the fine-dining establishments," said Mike Morton Jr., President of the CRA San Diego Chapter. "I’m thrilled that the City Council is supportive of making common-sense changes to these regulations that will ultimately let the restaurant industry grow and allow us to contribute even more to our communities."

The Planning Committee will be looking at the proposed changes in February. The Land Use & Housing Committee will be making recommendations on sidewalk cafes at the March meeting.