‘Let Them Stay’: San Diegans Divided on Outdoor Dining Structures

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‘Let Them Stay’: San Diegans Divided on Outdoor Dining Structures

Many readers argued the spaces have and will continue to help restaurants rebound from the pandemic, while others are more concerned about the safety of diners sitting just a few feet away from passing cars.

Outdoor dining structures set up on India St. in Little Italy.
Restaurants on India Street in Little Italy have erected temporary outdoor dining structures. / Photo by Megan Wood

Makeshift outdoor dining structures that line the streets in neighborhoods like North Park and Little Italy may be allowed to stick around for another year if the San Diego City Council approves an extension to temporary permits next week.

The permits that make the patio-like seating on parking spaces possible for restaurants are set to expire on July 13, and for other businesses on Aug. 3, reports Mackenzie Elmer. And while what exactly is allowed has been a gray area for many restaurant owners, the city says added features like walls, lights and heating go beyond what the temporary permits intended.

We shared Elmer’s reporting on Facebook, where dozens of locals voiced their support and opposition for the outdoor structures. Many argued the spaces have and will continue to help restaurants rebound from the pandemic, while others are more concerned about the safety of diners sitting just a few feet away from passing cars.

We pulled together some of the most interesting arguments shared on social media. Some comments have been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Pro: Outdoor dining will help restaurants recover.

“I hope they take it slow and give restaurants plenty of time. I won’t be eating inside anywhere for a very long time even though I’m vaccinated. I’ve loved the outdoor spaces and would like to see them stay. I’d also like to see restaurant owners get to use them. Tacky-looking shade structures and fewer parking spaces are literally last on my list of concerns.” – Nanelle Newbom

“Let them stay under temporary rules until the end of 2021 or even 2022. After that it’s reasonable for the spaces where public parking was to be regulated and some of them to go away. If communities like the better outdoor space, make some restaurant rows one-way streets and let restaurants meet a still ADA-compliant outdoor building code.” – Matt Finnegan

“There are still a ton of folks who don’t feel comfortable dining inside. Until we reach some sort of herd immunity, outdoor dining should most definitely stick around, with a more substantial barrier to traffic if needed.” – Nancee Lewis

Con: The current patio structures are not safe for diners.

“Some of them are an accident waiting to happen, like the Breakfast Republic on University, with the double No. 7 bus roaring by at short intervals!” – Rachel Burnage

“Dining in an upscale restaurant the other night, in one of those structures. Cars flying by within two feet of where I was sitting was terrifying. All it takes is one drunk or distracted nut to kill many. Get rid of them.” – Beth Farella

“I have one on the corner where I live and I can’t see traffic coming to the left of me. I have to move up more into the road to see. I don’t even know how they got approved for that one. I truly think that one should be taken down now that the pandemic has slowed down and now they can go back into their regular business, hopefully!” – Toni Sanchez

Pro: San Diego’s got the climate to make this work.

“For a city with the best weather in the world, it’s criminal these didn’t exist previously.” – Barry Walkenbach

“We are lucky that our weather allows outdoor eating. It’s been one of the nicest things during the pandemic and I’ll be sad when it’s gone.” – Amber Lovin

“Close Gaslamp and Kettner permanently and let them stay outside. The street parking was already minimal and the outdoor dining is not only fabulous but the flu comes back every year even if COVID-19 won’t.” – Daniel Joseph

Con: We need those parking spots.

“While some of the structures are appropriately placed and well built, most are not. I am all for outdoor dining. … San Diego will be a better place once outdoor cafes are properly embraced. But these things are impediments to traffic, impediments to emergency response, restrict parking where parking is already tight and are simply a giveaway of public land.” – George Browning

“Those things are dangerous, plus they’re eating up parking in lots of places where parking is already difficult. I like the outdoor eating option, but come on … pandemic coming to a manageable conclusion … it’s time to take those things down.” – Dawn Douglas

“This was never intended to be a permanent change, merely a temporary solution to an unprecedented pandemic. The impact on restaurants has been horrific. This was and remains a game-changer. But as we move toward a manageable conclusion then we should restore operations to pre-pandemic protocols and free up much-needed parking, and make our sidewalks navigable for the disabled. By December, we should end the outdoor dining structures entirely.” – Ellen G. Stein

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