About Those Outdoor Restaurant Structures …

by on May 18, 2021 · 34 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

The OB Rag first raised the issue back in March: “Are Ocean Beach Restaurants Ready to Give Back Our Public Spaces?”

We wondered whether OB eateries were ready to give back all that public space taken during the pandemic in order to keep their doors open. We simply raised the question.

Local restaurants commandeered parts of sidewalks and parking spaces to be able to offer outdoor dining, and those bars who were able to arrange food service are also in that same boat.

And many in the community have been sympathetic to their plight and understanding as part of the public and willing to give up some of our public space. We all knew it was temporary. To last only as long as the pandemic lasted.

So, as the county restrictions are carefully and slowly lifted, will all these businesses be dismantling the outdoor dining structures they’ve constructed over the last year? Some of these structures are quite hardy and almost give the impression they’re here to stay.

We have no doubt that the restaurants – when they return to “normal” – will gladly return to their proper spaces and allow the public to walk and park as before. We’re just curious as to how long it will take.

A good number of readers’ comments suggested shutting down Newport Avenue permanently to auto traffic and allow the outdoor structures to continue. But shutting down Newport seems to be an idea that wouldn’t be supported by the merchants on it.

Yet, the main issue – of whether restaurants and those bars that figured out how to serve food – were ready to give back that public space – remained unresolved, of course.

Since then, the issue has gotten some attention.

The Voice of San Diego expanded on the general issue and problem:

San Diego’s climate is famously comfortable almost year-round so, to restaurant owners who turned their dining inside-out during the pandemic, making their outdoor dining structures permanent is a no-brainer. “If we’re allowed to keep it, it will help us recover,” Chelsea Coleman, owner of The Rose wine bar in South Park.

But unless the City Council votes to extend the lifespan of the temporary permits that make the patio-like seating on parking spaces possible, many of them will soon be illegal. The permit for restaurants expires on July 13, and for other businesses on Aug. 3, according to the city’s website.

“We’re expecting hundreds of these structures to come down because they are solely intended to be temporary,” Elyse Lowe, who directs the city’s development services department and helped facilitate an expedited process to open outdoor dining at the beginning of the pandemic

Amid the chaos and pressure to reopen the local economy, it seems businesses got a little carried away and added more features – like walls, lights and heating – than what the temporary permits intended.

The Voice also found some major resistance to “going back” in restaurant-heavy Little Italy.

The confusion and blame-passing highlights the long road ahead in making the structures legal and permanent. Fire Chief Doug Perry said he received plans from Little Italy’s hired architect and the city granted a special event permit for a temporary structure, the kind Comic-Con uses to put up tents for instance, which ran out long ago.

“I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that every structure out there doesn’t meet electrical code,” Perry said. “It was very clear that it was temporary use only.”

Then why didn’t the city tell Little Italy to take the structures down? The city tacitly allowed them to continue, said Elyse Lowe, director of development services for the city. That’s where the gray area grew grayer.

“Little Italy was actively trying to pursue alternatives, and we were actively trying to allow the creative alternative,” Lowe said. “It’s gone on longer than expected.”

It appears nobody has been told to take them down. Many restauranteurs in Little Italy said the fire department has been kind and inspectors visit every few days, asking them to make changes like adding a fire extinguisher or checking that stormwater drains aren’t blocked. But many Little Italy restauranters also expect to keep their structures for at least a few years. Mayor Todd Gloria said he would bring forward a one-year extension on the temporary permits that expire in July.

And just recently, the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune came out swinging for the structures’ permits to be extended.

The permits expire July 13, and Mayor Todd Gloria wants them extended, saying they have been a positive boon to the city. The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board agrees and hopes the City Council does as well. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Gov. Gavin Newsom announced this week that mass vaccinations will mean normalcy and safety much sooner than expected, but many people remain reluctant to dine indoors, and half the state’s residents are unvaccinated.

Yes, of course, there are legitimate concerns about lost parking, about the makeshift outdoor dining areas being at risk from passing vehicles, and about fire safety related to wiring and electrical codes as well as fire engine access in the event of a structural blaze. But the city should set some minimum standards for now and adjust them as issues arise. The sharp increase in local outdoor dining options has been one of the pandemic’s few positive developments. A reflexive return to heavy regulation of public rights of way should be resisted.

So, dear reader, what do you think?

{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Carl M Zanolli May 18, 2021 at 11:59 am

I had heard these structures must be gone by June 15th and was only too glad to see them go. However, under the circumstances, that is, only half the people in the County are vaccinated, a bit longer would not be too much out of order. But go they must at some point. . . sooner than later.


Chris May 18, 2021 at 1:17 pm

A good chunk the business owners in Hillcrest/Bankers Hill/North Park are not to keen on giving up their expanded spaces considering the time, money and stress they put into it. Any inconvenience this has causes others it off their “concern radar” as one I know put it. I imagine many in OB feel the same way.


Sam May 18, 2021 at 2:03 pm

The structures have got to go. While there are a few nice ones in OB, most look like a team of toddlers designed and constructed them.

The restaurants will never be able to return to full capacity, thus returning to profit, until there is more parking.


Frank Gormlie May 18, 2021 at 3:41 pm

SAN DIEGO – In an effort to continue supporting businesses as they recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the San Diego City Council has unanimously approved an extension of interim urgency ordinances to allow the City’s Temporary Outdoor Business Operation (TOBO) permit program to continue.

Without the extension, permits for all restaurants were set to expire on July 13, 2021, and permits for other business services on Aug. 3, 2021. Now, the approval extends the expiration date for all permitted outdoor operations through July 13, 2022. In addition, the extension allows businesses and restaurants to continue outdoor operations even if COVID-19 health orders are rescinded.


Frank J May 18, 2021 at 4:15 pm

Voice article on May 12th was good with the pros & cons too.


Eric May 18, 2021 at 5:24 pm

Whose streets, our streets!
Close Newport to cars.


Sam May 18, 2021 at 5:59 pm

Such a great idea, then all the local merchants can go right out of business so we can turn all those retail shops into homeless shelters!


obpeg May 22, 2021 at 7:51 am

We just returned from a few days in Santa Barbara. They have closed most of downtown State Street and the result is wonderful. There is now plenty of room to wander from store to store or restaurant to restaurant. It’s the perfect combination of social distancing and human contact without cars in the way.


Sam May 23, 2021 at 1:41 pm

Comparing downtown Santa Barbara to downtown OB is absolutely ridiculous.


Peter from South O May 24, 2021 at 12:43 am

Why? Drive-by comments like that lend nothing to the conversation.


Sam May 24, 2021 at 10:08 am

Santa Barbara is the retail destination for the central coast. There are numerous excellent restaurants, award winning museums, high end retail and an insanely wealthy local population.

Everything about Santa Barbara is the exact opposite of OB. It is fairly conservative, they do not put up with junkies living in the streets, they don’t put up with people “living” in their crappy converted school buses and there is no real sense of danger when strolling around downtown unlike OB where apparently its cool to aggressively panhandle and threaten people.

Santa Barbara is the weekend playground for the rich and famous. OB is the weekend playground for junkies and drug dealers.


Geoff Page May 24, 2021 at 12:44 pm

I’ll take the OB playground any day over the playground of the rich and famous.

Sounds like you have a bad case of wealth worship. The rich are conservative because they support anyone who helps them hang onto their money. And the downtown comparison, as it was made, was perfectly reasonable. OB has great restaurants and retail, why is “high end” better than any other retail.

You need to watch The Big Lebowski scene where he is run out of a beach town that looked very much like Santa Barbara because they wanted to protect a wealthy citizen who made his money shooting porno films. That’s probably how they treat anyone who isn’t filthy rich, a coffee cup to the forehead.


Sam May 24, 2021 at 2:10 pm

No wealth worship here. I’d just like to see a clean, well kept neighborhood that doesn’t encourage drug dealers and junkies to do as they please.


Geoff Page May 24, 2021 at 2:35 pm

Do you really believe OB encourages drug dealers and junkies? Do you just watch Fox and KUSI? The merchants association, the town council, the planning board, are all working to do something. The problem is that OB sits within minutes of the downtown of the second biggest city in California. If you were homeless or just a bum, where would you prefer to live? OB isn’t encouraging anything, it is dealing with everyone else’s problem.


Chris May 24, 2021 at 5:01 pm

Santa Barbara does actually have a homeless population and it’s growing. Not the same as OB but it’s there. Also plenty of people who live in SB are not rich by any stretch despite the high cost of living. How they do it I don’t know but somehow they do. I live SD BTW but it’s not the perfect utopia you make it out to be either. As to whether or not closing off Newport to cars would work I don’t know. No one does. It probably depends on a # of factors and debating and analyzing it here would take on a life of it’s own.


Chris May 24, 2021 at 5:05 pm

I meant to say I love SB.


Geoff Page May 25, 2021 at 10:31 am

Chris, I could see how someone would like Santa Barbara, but I’m curious if you have ever lived there? The reason I ask is that the place exudes wealth. I lived in place like that for two years. Its a place called La Jolla.

I did not grow up in a wealthy family, my dad was a Navy officer, middle to low middle class. I came to San Diego in January 1977, twenty-six years old and unemployed. I got very lucky and was in the Operating Engineers union six months later making a lot of money with no bills other than rent and food.

La Jolla made mr uncomfortable, it just wasn’t how I grew up. But, what really turned me against it as the place to live were not the people with money so much as all the service people. People working at gas stations or behind counters would size me up and see I wasn’t well off, they seemed to be able to smell money. People who made much less money than I did treated me like crap. A guy walking toward my old VW bug to gas it up one day, did an about face and went right to a guy who had just pulled in driving some expensive car.

The point is, no one could argue that SB might be enjoyable for a visit, but I bet living there, without a ton of money, would be unpleasant.


Chris May 25, 2021 at 11:13 am

No I have never lived there. I’m just saying I love to visit there. My wife did for bout 10 years. She went to UCSB and stayed there for quite awhile after she graduated and she really liked it there. Not to dispute your experience but she never described in like you described La Jolla. She was a paralegal but no means was she rich. None of her friends were what you would describe as wealthy either other than a couple attorneys. Most worked in the hospitality biz and others were artists and jewelry makers. A couple others were punk rock musicians. Yes it was expensive but yet they managed. This was the 90s and early 00s so things could be different now with the stark income gap the whole country faces but that’s a whole separate discussion.


Chris May 25, 2021 at 11:19 am

Also after my family leave La Mesa when I was 7, I grew up in Palos Verdes so I DO know what it’s like to live amongst the rich.


Chris May 25, 2021 at 11:20 am


Geoff Page May 25, 2021 at 11:32 am

Palos Verdes? I understand there is great surf in that area. Well, we won’t hold that against you, Chris.

Chris May 25, 2021 at 11:39 am

I can honestly say I was not one of the “bay boys” and did not get along with them very well.


Frank Gormlie May 24, 2021 at 6:00 pm

It also has the University of California and that student ghetto Isla Vista.


Chris May 22, 2021 at 9:12 am

Closing off entire streets to cars works in some areas and in others not so much and in others mixed results. It’s not a one size fits all.


obpeg May 23, 2021 at 11:53 am

You’re correct, Chris. That’s why we should be examining whether it might work in OB.


Frank F May 19, 2021 at 9:46 am

As attractive an idea it is to turn Newport into a pedestrian street, unfortunately it has been shown that these streets quickly turn into on of two models. One is a wildly successful venue for national chain retail stores like Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade and the other model is a dangerous avenue where transients and drug dealers hang out and criminals prey on shoppers. Look at C Street in downtown San Diego between Front and 9th, it’s pedestrian only and it’s a snake-pit, especially at night.

The history of pedestrian malls in the US has been dismal and unpredictable. Before we dive headfirst in to reimagining Newport Avenue, we should ponder long and hard about the devil we know versus the devil we don’t.


retired botanist May 19, 2021 at 3:02 pm

Absurd, and outrageous of the City to grant a full year extension. Dining and bar experiences may very well be changed forever in some ways, the same can be said for retail, movie theaters, and lots of other businesses that have specific, dedicated physical spaces. That’s life, and the public has been accommodating these restaurant encroachments this past 1.5 yrs.
So now what? Should movie theaters just take over (for free) public parking lots and turn them into drive-ins?! Should restaurants just be given public sidewalk space (for free) to double their seating capacities?!
Gee, I haven’t been able to go to a museum, so can they also get a piece of the public access space to showcase their art?
WTF, City?!


Chris May 19, 2021 at 4:39 pm

“That’s life, and the public has been accommodating these restaurant encroachments this past 1.5 yrs.”

In my area (Hillcrest/North Park) we have the same issues and to be honest I enjoy being able to eat and drink outside. Since I can walk to places, parking isn’t an issue. I am part of the public so I guess it really depends on one’s circumstances. And for many of these restaurants it means increased capacity.


Carl M Zanolli May 19, 2021 at 4:54 pm

Increased capacity indeed. Great Maple in Hillcrest has quadrupled its capacity by moving into their parking lot. But at least that’s not public space.


Geoff Page May 25, 2021 at 11:39 am

The only reason that the extension might be reasonable is that the increased areas increase business and perhaps help these businesses recover some of what they lost, for a while. But, after a year, and if businesses are fully open, this should end. If people would like to close Newport or make any of this permanent, those needs to be considered on a case by case basis. I like the idea of a pedestrian Newport but I don’t have a business there, those are the folks who need to be heard from. And, yes, the idea of a parking garage would have to be considered, there is certainly not enough street parking elsewhere to accommodate all of Newport’s existing parking.


obcliffhanger May 20, 2021 at 8:14 am

I’m sure Eric would include a parking structure (probably in the CVS lot) to accommodate needs after closing Newport to traffic… so tired of hearing the old knee-jerk snark responses.
We can be creative and push for a venue that nurtures LOCAL businesses. A great example to aim for is something like Church Street in Burlington VT. (as an example of how it CAN work, in a like minded community) In the 80’s they closed it off, repaved it with brick, and have all or nearly all local merchants. Plus a parking garage… Check it out: https://churchstmarketplace.com.
THAT would be something worth fighting for.


Tessa May 24, 2021 at 5:52 pm

I lived in Burlington, VT, in the 1970s and remember Church Street back then….cars drag racing, tired store fronts. When Bernie Sanders won as mayor, however, the whole street (the whole town, really) was re-imagined. Church Street is charming now. It’s a college town, in a beautiful setting – next to Lake Champlain, with the Adirondacks across the lake in full view. It has very cold winters, so people without homes don’t hang around outside. Big difference.


sealintheSelkirks May 25, 2021 at 12:35 pm

Bluntly, the odds of ‘things returning to normal’ is pretty far-fetched with the 2nd Wave of Covid spreading across and running rampant around the world.

I posted some article links about that on the thread: https://obrag.org/2021/05/news-from-ocean-beach-and-point-loma-mid-may-2021. New info in the last few days hasn’t changed that outlook across the planet, folks. If anything it looks darker. Oh my.

The county next to me just dropped back to Phase II and my county is right on the edge of losing their Phase III re-open designation, too, and starting to close up stores and restaurants and bars etc etc. More and more people are going down weekly here even with the state government’s cave-in to the ‘business interests’ with weakened mandates.

I’m afraid that it’s looking like the 2nd Wave variants are starting to show up in the US population, here, too. With the ridiculous no mask or physical distancing mandate in effect, this will cause more flare-ups just like Singapore that just locked down again. And believe me, I’m just as frustrated as anybody else and hate this just as much!

A short essay by a Maine dirt farmer on killing bugs and how life finds a way around the farmer that is applied to covid which, after all, is just a bug, right?

Ruralist’s Lament: It’s Alive!


So I’d say leaving these structures up for a while was probably a good call if the businesses are going to survive through this on-going pandemic. They still might not.



Casey Stevens May 25, 2021 at 8:03 pm

They are not safe, not up to code, i was having brunch a few weeks ago at a extremely popular outdoor dining spot, it was a lean-two, something to make a shade tree mechanic proud, as i sat down my foot (poorly encased in a flip flop), made contact with a live electrical wire on the deck, my nuts jumped into my throat, the idiot waiter said, “is the salsa too hot”, i told him what happened and the manager came out and i accepted his apology, but not eating outside in those lean-two’s again,


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