The temporary patio adjacent to Nonna in Little Italy on May 11, 2021.
The temporary patio adjacent to Nonna in Little Italy / Photo by Megan Wood

This post originally appeared in the Oct. 27 Morning Report. Get the Morning Report delivered to your inbox.

It only took a global pandemic for San Diego to realize it’s perfectly practical to dine outdoors year-round.

The San Diego City Council OK’d the first reading of a new ordinance Tuesday that could help restaurants transition their temporary outdoor dining structures erected during the blur of early COVID-19 days into permanent ones, for a fee.

We reported in spring that hundreds of these structures would have to come down because many violated state building codes — particularly ones that had overhead structures combined with propane-powered heaters. The Little Italy Association argued that their ornate patios, designed by a hired architect, complied with all regulations. That wasn’t the case.

In fact, according to the new design manual created by city staff, ceilings are still not allowed. Restaurants can add umbrellas and that’s about it. The manual offers a menu of options, including a “streetary” — now the term for what we have been referring to as outdoor dining structures in parking spaces. There are also new guidelines for sidewalk cafes, a takeover of parking spaces by a built-out curb called an “active sidewalk” and full street take over by a promenade, like the one in Little Italy.

As far as the new permit fees go, there are reduced fees for restaurants in lower-income areas as prescribed under the city’s Climate Equity Index. Restaurant owners in very-low to low access opportunity areas will pay the city $10 per square foot of the structure per year, or approximately $2,000. Restaurants in very high opportunity areas can expect to pay about $6,000 per year.

The City Council is expected to vote once more on the ordinance in November, according to a city press release, and it will also need approval from the California Coastal Commission. Once the commission approves it, restaurant owners in the coastal zone (La Jolla, etc.) won’t have to independently get approval for their dining structure development plans from that state agency. That wonky fact probably just triggered a big sigh of relief.

  • Restaurants along North Park’s University Avenue aren’t breathing the same sigh of relief. NBC 7 reports that several restaurant owners were recently told they’ll need to remove their parklets so the city can do work on the University Avenue Mobility Project, which will add bike and bus lanes and a median. That’s bad news for businesses that invested thousands of dollars in parklets — some as recently as a few weeks ago.

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