As of Thursday, Sept. 9, outdoor dining structures erected in Little Italy during the COVID-19 pandemic remain unchanged despite the city cracking down on code enforcement earlier that week. / Photo by Adriana Heldiz

It’s been three days since the city of San Diego said code compliance officers would begin cracking down on restaurants with outdoor dining structures that violate building codes. People have voiced their support for keeping the structures forever but fire marshals don’t care about nice dining ambiance and the city seemed ready to bring the sometimes very elaborate patios down.

The outdoor spaces were crucial for small businesses trying to survive when the pandemic forced restaurants to abandon indoor dining. So far, though, there doesn’t appear to be much change.

In Little Italy and the Gaslamp, where streets for more than a year have been filled with wooden dining areas — complete with roofs, waste-high railings and sometimes space heaters — not much changed this week.

City spokesman Scott Robinson told NBC 7 San Diego that code compliance officers are now going business to business alerting them of specific violations, like ceilings or railings higher than 45 inches. But of the 453 businesses that received official, temporary permits for structures, code compliance officers only managed to visit four on Wednesday, two of which were out of compliance, Robinson said. 

On Thursday evening, India Street in Little Italy — the epicenter of tension and confusion over outdoor dining — looked as it did a month ago, with roofed patios and propane-fueled space heaters common.

The Little Italy Association, a group representing businesses in the area, reached out to Gov. Gavin Newsom in July, asking the state to loosen building codes to let the temporary structures persist.

Not his job, was the reply.

“The governor’s office said it was a ‘local enforcement issue,’ which the association completely and totally disagrees with,” said Larisa Medina, a spokesperson for the organization, which hired an architect to design the roofed structures that are common in the neighborhood. 

But the pace of code compliance outreach isn’t the only indication that the structures might not be going anywhere. Once the city alerts a business owner that their patio is out of compliance, they’ll face an administrative hearing within 30 days. After that, the city will begin charging $100 a day fines, NBC 7 reported.

Robinson told Voice of San Diego that the city has two code investigators going block by block in each City Council district, beginning with the businesses that are the subject of existing requests for code enforcement. 

The process “has to be equitable,” Robinson said. “We can’t just focus on downtown, we have to focus in all areas.” 

Shelter for People Facing Addiction, Mental Health Issues Moves Forward

City housing commissioners voted Thursday to move forward with a 50-bed facility in the Midway area, near the Sports Arena, that would serve homeless San Diegans grappling with addiction and mental health challenges.

The Housing Commission approved a nine-month, $1.5 million contract with nonprofit Alpha Project to operate the planned safe haven program at a shuttered Pier 1 Imports store. The city-owned property has sat vacant ahead of the planned Sports Arena redevelopment. That means the shelter site itself is temporary.

The Union-Tribune noted that the program is expected to offer an array of resources.

The new shelter, which city officials hope will open by late fall, is part of a joint city-county strategy to open multiple so-called harm reduction shelters better equipped to aid people with substance abuse issues and with more supportive services than traditional city homeless shelters. 

The harm reduction model increasingly pushed by substance abuse treatment experts and county behavioral health officials means those who stay at the shelter will not be required to commit to sobriety or be booted from the program if they are under the influence (though drug use will not be allowed on site). The county is expected to provide substance abuse treatment and other services to support the new program and to help participants address their addictions and find permanent housing.

It’s unclear when additional safe haven programs might proceed. A spokesman for Mayor Todd Gloria, who included millions of dollars in this year’s city budget to add shelter beds and expand options for homeless people with substance use challenges, declined to say Thursday when additional safe haven sites might be announced.

Photo(s) of the Week

Scenes from a recent charrería competition at Rancho La Laguna in San Ysidro. / Photos by Adriana Heldiz

From Adriana Heldiz: As a native San Diegan, I take pride in thinking I know my town like the back of my hand — especially the South Bay.

I have memories associated with every area in Chula Vista, some fond (that baseball field where I used to meet up with my high school boyfriend) and some I’d like to forget (that street where I got a ticket for driving without a license in college).

But every so often, I’m reminded how much I have to learn about my community. Over the weekend, I attended a charrería, commonly known as a rodeo, in San Ysidro with my friend and Union-Tribune reporter Andrea Lopez-Villafaña. She wrote a story about the Mexican sport and its presence here in San Diego. You can read it here.

When we got there, I was upset with myself for not knowing the local presence of a beloved tradition. I’ve heard of rodeos in North County, but none that embodied Mexican culture. How could I have not known about the ranchos in San Ysidro? How could I have missed out on contestants dressed in traditional Mexican clothing, majestically riding on horses just a few miles from the border? (A border, by the way, that didn’t exist when the sport was first introduced in Mexico.)

And on rodeos: In April, the San Diego County Democratic Party’s Central Committee unanimously passed a resolution calling on the county’s Board of Supervisors to ban “certain animal torture devices at rodeos,” including electric prods, shocking devices, wire tie-downs and sharpened spurs, a resolution modeled after one recently passed by the Los Angeles City Council.

In Other News

  • Downtown boosters have for years hoped that San Diego’s high-income tech and life sciences sectors would move downtown from their Sorrento Valley homes (some office projects under construction are betting on the possibility). But the Union-Tribune’s Jennifer Van Grove reports that a major developer with a presence in Torrey Highlands is predicting that research and development companies are going to start moving east, instead, toward Rancho Peñasquitos
  • Carmel Mountain Ranch residents are urging the City Council not to approve a housing project that would replace an out-of-business golf course with 1,200 homes, 180 of which would be reserved for low-income residents. (Union-Tribune)
  • Institutions of higher learning in Florida for some reason decided to study whether San Diegans would accumulate wealth faster by purchasing a home or renting. You’re not going to believe this but they concluded homes are so expensive here, it’s a better idea to keep paying landlords. (Union-Tribune)
  • San Diego is under a heat advisory from the National Weather Service through 9 p.m. Friday and that muggy air you’re feeling is due to monsoonal moisture lingering over the region, which brings with it chances for thunderstorms. (NBC 7) 
  • Speaking of that: There were some incredible videos of the thunderstorms last night like this one.
  • Before embarking on a trip through eastern Otay Mesa, please study-up on how to use San Diego’s first diverging diamond interchange, to which the San Diego Association of Governments tweeted instructions on Thursday
  • What’s a diverging diamond? Well, check out their graphic.
  • Yeah, we have no idea either. Just go. You’ll figure it out.
  • County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher acknowledged this week that the county has to “do a better job” managing hotels reserved for homeless people isolating from COVID-19, inewsource reported, a month after a review by SDSU concluded that the county gave an unqualified company a $30 million contract to run the facilities leading to delays in administering medication and gaps in service that contributed to overdoses and deaths by suicide.
  • Cops may quit, survey says: The Union-Tribune got a hold of a survey the union for police officers at the city of San Diego did in which 65 percent of officers said they would considering quitting if the city forced them to get vaccinated.

The Morning Report was written by Andrew Keatts, MacKenzie Elmer, Adriana Heldiz and Lisa Halverstadt, and edited by Jesse Marx and Scott Lewis. 

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