San Diego Is About to Sell Off Our Public Spaces for Outdoor Dining

by on July 28, 2021 · 39 comments

in Ocean Beach, San Diego

It’s not being touted as a “sell-off”, but that’s really what it is. The City of San Diego is preparing to sell the public spaces, the sidewalks and parking spaces that restaurants used during the pandemic – to those businesses. It’s called a “fee” but it’s more like a sale or lease.

The city is moving in the direction of making the parking spaces and sidewalks taken over by restaurants during the last 15 months or so “permanent.”

Let’s call it for what it is. The privatization of public space, of the “commons.”

City officials announced Monday a new program to “make permanent the emergency outdoor dining permits the city issued to restaurants across the city shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic began,” as the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

The new program, “Spaces as Places” is admirable on its face. As the U-T described:

In exchange for allowing restaurants to permanently expand into outdoor spaces like sidewalks and on-street parking spots, the city would collect a fee to cover recreational amenities that would aim to make streets more like public promenades.

The size of the fee paid by each restaurant would be based on the amount of public “right-of-way” land they take over. The fee would be lower if the right-of-way land would be open to the public during hours the restaurant is closed.

Half the revenue from the proposed fee would cover upgrades to right-of-way areas across the city. The other half would cover efforts to create outdoor dining areas in neighborhoods deemed “communities of concern,” which are typically ethnically diverse neighborhoods where incomes are relatively low.

The fee revenue could be used for “sidewalk widening, street trees and other upgrades to make streets more appealing to walkers and cyclists.” The U-T reported:

City officials said the proposal would include barriers to protect outdoor diners and pedestrians. And outdoor dining would be prohibited on streets where the speed limit is greater than 30 mph. Outdoor dining would also need to be at least 20 feet from an intersection and not within an alley, bike lane or bus lane.

It also could not be near storm drains or fire hydrants. Outdoor dining in residential areas would have more limited hours. City officials said the proposal includes a variety of options for restaurants and neighborhoods, including curb extensions, public promenades and dining in former restaurant parking lots in areas near transit.

City Council members, apparently, were full of praise for the proposal, “as an innovative way to boost restaurants” as well as make neighborhoods more walkable and bikable. It helps the city’s climate action plan, and “half” of the new money is pledged for low-income areas. Councilmember Marni von Wilpert called the permanent expansion of outdoor dining a “silver lining” of the pandemic.

Jen Campbell was more cautionary, however, and expressed concern that the changes could make it harder for older residents to dine out. She wants city officials to find a solution, possibly including parking spots reserved for elderly people. The city proposal would prevent removal of handicapped parking spots. She told staff and colleagues: “I urge you to think twice. There needs to be a balance.”

Concerns by Councilmembers Stephen Whitburn and Sean Elo-Rivera were on safety issues. Whitburn was quoted: “How are we going to prevent cars from crashing into seating that is extended out into what used to be a parking lane or a traffic lane?”

This all came out at Monday’s meeting of the council’s COVID-19 Response and Recovery Committee. Two workshops held in June were attended by more than 150 people, including many restaurant owners. The city is conducting a survey on the new proposed program.

Sure, on the surface, this all seems chill. Those struggling restaurants need a break – they provide jobs and food for locals and tourists.

But, why is the city considering making the expansions “permanent”? The original permits for the expansions have already been extended for a year just recently. So, why can’t they be extended each year with applications?  Why do they have to be permanent?

As a platform for Ocean Beach and beyond, the OB Rag has consistently and historically guarded our public space, our commons over the years. The commons are for the people, the public – it’s space that everyone is allowed to be in, by law, by tradition, it’s a civic right. Private encroachment into that space deserves our attention and review.

The Rag has criticized local OB businesses when they’ve encroached into public space, and we were able to have one restaurant cut back its dangerous encroachment.

Then came the pandemic – and most of us applauded when restaurants were allowed to expand in order to survive. We watched understandably when structures, awnings, plastic – even surfboards – went up and over space that used to belong to the public. In many cases, private enclosures were created where once we were invited without having to pay for a meal and drink.

Yet, what do the residents of the community and the other businesses who aren’t restaurants feel about the take-away of space? Parking issues were real during the pre-pandemic days, and businesses relied on customers finding nearby parking. As did customers.

Sure, there is the concept that has been popularized during the pandemic of making business areas like Newport Avenue free of cars altogether – but that still does not have to include the loss of public space.

If the extensions for outdoor dining are made “permanent” for a lease, or fee, or even “tax”, or whatever you want to call it, this is really a sale of our public space. It’s called privatization, the use for private interests and profit of what was public.

The people already knew spaces were places and have for years been pressuring the city to upgrade and improve those public spaces. More trees, more benches, more street lights that worked and didn’t spy on you. Now the city wants to sell off all that space for the people so it can finally make those improvements people have been clamoring for.



{ 39 comments… read them below or add one }

Sam July 28, 2021 at 1:03 pm

This will be an absolute sh!tshow, no doubt about it. This city was not designed for this and is woefully unprepared for a retrofit. Put aside the absolutely hideous “structures” that have been slapped together (I’m looking at you Arizona “Cafe”) consisting of nothing more than some 2x4s held up by Home Depot buckets filled with cement, the blatant safety concerns, ADA compliance issues and most obvious of all, the lack of parking that other businesses depend on to stay afloat. I try to support these local OB businesses as much as I can, but if I circle the block 3 or 4 times trying to go to the hardware store, for instance, I just give up and head over to Home Depot simply because I’ll be able to park my car. Its really a shame that the City Council is pushing this through without any serious consideration to unintended consequences.


Geoff Page July 28, 2021 at 1:28 pm

Other unintended consequences. The restaurants that expanded onto the sidewalk and street did so because they were able to. My favorite breakfast spot is Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant on Newport across the street from the old theater. They were unable to take advantage of the same options because the Newport crosswalk ends in front of their place and there is disabled parking, it was simply impossible. I’m sure other places also suffered from this. Allowing such land takeover by those who can do it will put all the others at a disadvantage. It will alter the business plan assumptions that they built their businesses on while they are in mid stride.

I also agree with editor dude completely, this space should not be for sale. One more year is fine to help those folk get back on their feet and because there may be a need for them as the virus seems to be making a comeback. But, unequivocally, not permanent. Oh, and any street these are on need a speed limit of no more than 20mph, 15mph would be better. The 30mph limit in this article is ridiculous.


Mat Wahlstrom July 28, 2021 at 1:30 pm

Thank you for this. I’ve just been floored by how so many temporary adaptations to a novel pandemic have been exploited for private gain. And whenever the legal wizards at the city get involved in anything related to real estate one can be certain fiasco will follow.

For example, not every public right of way is the same: it depends on how it was dedicated. If it went in by subdivision then the city only has an easement (meaning it’s “owned in fee by the adjacent owners”), which could require a vacation and possible city purchase (if not considered an appropriate use) or require the city to remit any fees collected back to the owners. Also raises the question of whether the city owns the “improvements” and if so is this “an illegal taking.” And who assumes the liability — the property owner, the tenant business, or the city?

In any event, I’m sure it won’t be long before any benefits to the tenant businesses is undone by landlords charging extra rent for these spaces, wiping out any economic relief intended by this program in the first place.


Gravitas July 28, 2021 at 2:57 pm

Finally, some backlash. What a stupid (though almost predictable mov) by the compliant City Council.

Look at the junk….the lack of any serious consideration for pedestrians, the elderly, or just good, clean neighborhoods with a common community space.

The streets and sidewalks in this this town need deep power washings as was done for the Hepatitis outbreak downtown. Walk under the archways at Balboa Park…DISGUSTING. Clean the city….we are in the midst of a pandemic!


Tessa July 28, 2021 at 3:29 pm

I am up there in years, and use a cane for safety. The sidewalks are already hazardous, with haphazard patching, cracks, ruts, and so on. Add to it the narrow spaces left once restaurants have jutted out into the walkways and it’s getting ever more tricky getting around. ADA compliance for wheelchairs – that would be a joke!
I hope the city reverses itself on this fiat of a ruling, pronto!


kh July 28, 2021 at 3:55 pm

anyone that thinks this is a good idea should head down to south beach florida, where you have to wait in line behind a server just to walk down the sidewalk.

and you know the city won’t enforce shit, they already don’t on those who encroach more than allowed. they don’t follow their own rules on sidewalk cafes currently. also these street and sidewalk patios sit empty 18 hours a day.

I’m gonna have to agree with Jen Campbell on this one. Maybe she should just decide to not put it on agenda like all the other council presidents have done with things they disagree with. .


sealintheSelkirks July 28, 2021 at 4:03 pm

Totally agree. To permanently give away public spaces to specific businesses seems rather extreme but that’s what the SD City Council has always been. But not in a good way that benefits the public most of the time.

Critical thinking skills (other than how much revenue will it generate for the gov or their business golfing buddies) has always been sorely lacking in San Diego government. But those of us born & raised know this!

So they want to rent/sell/tax the street and sidewalks and the end result could be that these places are no longer accessible to even walk through on the sidewalk by people NOT dining there? And what happens when you collide with someone whose arms are full of hot food plates coming out a door to the parking tables? That had to have happened already I’m sure…

Hello Council! A “silver lining” of the pandemic? REALLY? This is seriously lacking in long-term considerations. Why is that not surprising from a politician?

Until we can get a handle on this new disease (NOT likely anytime soon see my latest post on COVID cases on rise thread), I can see how continuing the temporary 1 yr renewable permits can be useful only as a stopgap measure. Though this situation obviously does nothing for those business neighbors who need the parking for their customer flow so they can survive. What about the non-restaurant businesses? Nothing for them?

My closest largest town Chewelah has only allowed one restaurant sidewalk extension take-over since last year due to their having a roll-up front wall to the building along with a few smaller with just a couple of sidewalk tables under awnings by their front doors. Nothing like what I see in the pics of Newport where all the parking is gone. Half the sidewalk allowed only from the pizza & brew pub place which still allows me to skate on the outside walk past people eating and drinking fairly safely but wheelchairs are barely manageable. People on bicycles can’t make it anymore and are regulated to the street but of course this town only has 2,300 residents to worry about!

The town cut their Main Street 3 blocks long business district speed limit to 15mph last year and that is working just fine excepting those people who are always in too much of a hurry. Much more relaxed and far fewer collisions from people backing out of diagonal parking, far less dust thrown up by tires, etc etc. So that was a good idea. At least they had one!



Don Wood July 28, 2021 at 4:15 pm

It not clear whether the city is considering selling or renting public right of way property to the restaurants concerned, or whether the city will retain title to the property but issue temporary one year public use permits that allows the restaurants to continue occupying the property as long as they keep paying permit fees each year. The author is correct that under that scenario, the city and the public lose access to this “privatized” property for each the restaurants keep paying permit fees. The city council needs to think carefully, and consult with the city’s street engineering staff before jumping into this.


Ob Mike July 28, 2021 at 6:48 pm

“The Rag has criticized local OB businesses when they’ve encroached into public space, and we were able to have one restaurant cut back its dangerous encroachment.”

Wow, what restaurant was this?


Ob Mike July 29, 2021 at 9:44 am

Which restaurant are you talking about Frank???


Frank Gormlie July 29, 2021 at 10:46 am

Ob Mike, since they did comply and acted in good faith to correct the situation, plus it was a few years ago, I’d rather not make it public again. If you’re a good sleuth, you could probably figure it out by searching older posts.


Geoff Page July 29, 2021 at 11:48 am

I know, I know! (Hand eagerly raised and waving)


retired botanist July 29, 2021 at 3:32 pm

yeah, I know, too! And to be fair, they only retreated b/c they were called out on it…just sayin’


Ob Mike July 30, 2021 at 11:18 am

So you spoke with the owner about the issue? What what did he say? Can’t believe I’ve eaten at that place.


Ob Mike July 30, 2021 at 11:20 am

You obviously have insight on this. What did the owner say when you confronted him?


Ob Mike July 30, 2021 at 11:12 am

Wow, must be 15 or more articles/additions talking about one restaurant, so I assume it is them??? I didn’t see any quotes from the owner in any of them. I can’t imagine how many times you must have reached out to them to get their side of the story. How many times did you try, 5 or 10? Would have nice to read what they had to say. But with the intent you and others here say, they must be a real piece!


Frank Gormlie July 30, 2021 at 11:39 am

By the tone of your comments, it’s almost like you’re finding fault with us for calling the place out on their public encroachment.


Ob Mike July 30, 2021 at 11:49 am

So you never even attempted to contact the owner to ask his side? With that many articles? Is that journalism? Is that fair? Is that how humans should interact? WOW!


Frank Gormlie July 30, 2021 at 12:54 pm

Wow yourself, “OB Mike” – perhaps you know somebody on the inside or have an interest in the restaurant or are in a similar snafu. Whatever – you have no idea of how this was handled, and now you’re trying an armchair critique years later – yeah, wow.


kh July 30, 2021 at 1:38 pm

Mike, it sounds like you’re referring to The Joint. At the onset of construction people complained to your manager about it sticking out too far. His response was basically “We have a permit”. Construction proceeded. It was reported to code enforcement for encroaching beyond what is allowed, but they would not look at it until it was completed. They determined that it deviated from the permit drawings and issued a correction notice. Only then were parts of it were moved back. It is still is in violation along Newport, but the city doesn’t even know their own rules regarding clear visual zone. So be it. And now that you got the palm trees and public trash cans removed you can expand it further. It’s unfortunate that time and money was lost because it wasn’t laid out per code, and that it wasn’t double-checked after the initial complaints, and if the city gave any improper sign-offs or assurances.

So what are we missing?


retired botanist July 31, 2021 at 4:51 pm

Seriously, OB Mike- now that the owner has been “outed”- again- (thx kh for standing up) this was a poster child of the problem. And this whole thing of the “owner’s side of the story”? There is no owners side of the story. The space is public space. Which part of that needs an alternate explanation? And if I recall, this was BEFORE covid. No- there is no other story, whatever stance the City now takes.


harry July 28, 2021 at 7:00 pm

I think this is a great idea. With our climate, dinning outdoors is a natural. I don’t know why it took this long. It’s a delightful experience. Obviously, the temporary structures are tacky. But if it is a long term situation, I have little doubt owners will improve them. Crashing into them; I don’t remember any epidemic of cars crashing into parked cars? and they stick out further on Newport. Indeed, with the new super cab trucks, the street is actually wider with a dining pergola. In other forums, most of your readers would be in favor of “quieting traffic”. With narrower streets, drivers naturally slow down. I don’t know what the fee will be, do you? Maybe it will be a fair rent for the space. Even if it’s not, I will be ok with the program


kh July 28, 2021 at 10:57 pm

I know of three incidents where cars crashed into the street patios. And i mean knocking part of them down, not just a little bump while parking. In one case at OB Kebab a diner was taken away in an ambulance.


Geoff Page July 29, 2021 at 11:51 am

Bit a problem with your comparison, harry. A car crashing into a parked car is only doing damage to an empty car. A car crashing into a patio full of people, who have no idea what is coming and who have none of the protective equipment a car has, is an entirely different matter.


Harry July 29, 2021 at 1:33 pm

Maybe I was unclear. I was not comparing the severity of cars hitting cars or pergola. But if cars have not been running into cars parked on the street, which is narrower, why would they suddenly start running into pergola, where there is much more clearance.


Geoff Page July 29, 2021 at 2:06 pm

My point is that the one risk is simply to another empty car. However often that may happen does not matter much. The risk of just one accident from a car hitting an outdoor dining area is something we don’t want to happen even one time. I’m too old to be frequenting the bars on Newport but the few times I’ve been down there on a weekend night, there were more than a few drunks walking around. It could happen.


kh July 29, 2021 at 3:55 pm

Harry, I’m astonished by your comment. Parked cars getting sideswiped and/or totalled is a very very common problem on our busy narrow streets in OB! And more often than not it’s hit and runs after dark when people have been out drinking. And there’s very little accountability for it.


Eric July 28, 2021 at 7:23 pm

Now close Newport to cars.


Frank Gormlie July 28, 2021 at 7:41 pm

Eric, I raised that issue. Even if Newport was closed to cars, would all that space remain public or would restaurants, bars and maybe other businesses carve out more of our commons for themselves?


Kathleen Blavatt July 29, 2021 at 2:04 am

Does anyone remember that the OB streets including Newport and Beacon flood during big storms, and have for over and over again for more than a century? Remember OBMA’s office being flooded in 2016? Remember the many El Ninos that put Newport Ave. under water? The fact that the city sealed off many the storm drains when they put in the handicapped ramps! Remember the press had a field day with the flooded underground parking lot that destroyed the Lamborghini cars? Who is going to be liable when property is damaged and people are hurt?
The city might want to “weather” a few years of storms before making before making the outdoor dining permanent! Or just eliminate it when the pandemic is over.


Tyler July 29, 2021 at 9:43 am

This is going to end up like 2008 when the city cut tree trimming to save money and then ended up paying more due to one loose branch falling on someone and paralyzing them. We’re going to see a bad accident right into these sidewalk structures and the lawsuit is going to orders of magnitude larger than the rent revenue the city will generate.


Douglas Blackwood July 29, 2021 at 1:10 pm

Speaking of taking public space for Restaurant/Bars! There was public space at the patio where Wonderland, etc is: that is now filled up with tables for that Restaurant/Bars! Is anyone addressing that?
My wife has difficulty walking: what about her safety ?


Harry July 29, 2021 at 1:39 pm

I’m having a hard time following the ADA issues in the comments. By definition, this ordinance and the editorial are about streets. Are complaints about using the outdoor restaurant space i.e. a step, etc? Or is there an argument that the pergola somehow affects the sidewalk?


kh July 29, 2021 at 4:02 pm

The street and sidewalk patios are a major impediment to use of the sidewalks for anyone disabled. It’s become like walking though a busy restaurant. Servers, chairs, patrons in line blocking the path. It’s physically impossible to have dining on both sides of the public sidewalk without it impacting the public sidewalk, and some restaurants handle it better than others. This should all be plainly apparent to anyone who spend much time on Newport. The issue is not exclusive to street patio use but that is a major contributor.

As for the deck by wonderland, that’s on private property. I would be surprised if there’s any sort of public easement for that area, despite what some people may be accustomed to.


Douglas Blackwood July 29, 2021 at 1:13 pm



retired botanist July 29, 2021 at 3:39 pm

UGH!!! Fortunately, most comments echo my POV on this situation, which I have commented on every time (=numerous) that it has come up in The Rag! This is infuriating, and such a prime example of the City STEALING from the public coffers!! And any arguments about making Newport pedestrian, or decreases in traffic, or any other BS that tries to justify selling publicly owned space to specific vendors, is total displacement. I hope Newport businesses that are NOT restaurants (tho lord knows I’m sure they can’t afford it) file a lawsuit against the City for business discrimination. Shame on the City! :(


Debbie July 31, 2021 at 8:56 am
unwashedWalmartThong July 31, 2021 at 10:17 pm

From a purely selfish position, I need a place to park my giant 4X4 gas-guzzling, non-electric pick up truck when I need to buy CD’s from Cow Records on Newport. So those temporary structures need to go. Some of them look like they had been dragged to San Diego on the back of a ’38 pick up truck from Oklahoma during those Dust Bowl Years. When the 8-track player in my truck died, I had to upgrade to an I-Pod & Shuffle, and I also had to buy some early prototype Mac with I-tunes just to download onto the little devices. I need to visit Cow Records on a monthly basis.
(How many times do I have to buy Tull’s Thick As A Brick? Vinyl. 8-track. Cassette. CD!)

So those structures encroaching onto City Property should be given a year, and then they should
be removed. Now, that removal process causes problems because the City will designate a date
for removal, then all those businesses will demo them & cart them off to the landfill. That’s more of a problem. The City ought to offer a window of time for removal, say 90 days; that way all those materials may not end up in the landfill. Also, the City ought to work with some charitable organization like Habitat for Humanity to recycle a lot of the materials. That may mitigate the waste stream deriving from the temporary structure demolition.
Some of the structures are built with pressure treated lumber, and that type of lumber isn’t accepted at the landfill (especially the copper chromated arsenate type) (Actually, CCA may not be used much in CA anymore).
So the problem is exacerbated by the waste stream. Some businesses may just store the materials in the back, in the alley, then the homeless won’t be able to get their shopping carts
through the alleys.
Even though businesses spent a lot of money on the structures, that fact does not give them
the right to take over City property.
Remember, “We’re all in it together.” Robert DeNiro in Brazil, a movie.


Douglas Blackwood August 1, 2021 at 1:10 pm

KH: when the deck was built; the North West corner was designated as “Public Space”!
What happened? Does anyone care?
I am very grateful to have resided in OB for 60+ years!
Its best years have passed, but the “OB RAG” keeps us posted: keep up the great work Frank!


Leave a Comment

Older Article:

Newer Article: