Outdoor Dining Structures Don't Have to Come Down Yet After All

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Outdoor Dining Structures Don't Have to Come Down Yet After All

Unpermitted outdoor dining structures were supposed to be coming down, but Tuesday the city said restaurants would have until Aug. 2 to comply. 

Outdoor dining structures set up by restaurants on India St. in Little Italy.
Outdoor dining structures set up by restaurants on India St. in Little Italy. / Photo by Megan Wood

This post originally appeared in the July 13 Morning Report. Get the Morning Report delivered to your inbox.

This post has been updated with a statement from the city and a more accurate date for the deadline. 

As 10News reported, Tuesday is the deadline for restaurants to get into compliance with their outdoor dining structures. Or … it was the deadline. The city has given them a break. 

Restaurants have been allowed to have tables and chairs and a fence outside, on city streets, as per the city’s temporary permission for outdoor dining, but they were not allowed to build elaborate overhead structures. You may have noticed that many did build elaborate overhead structures. 

Those were supposed to be coming down, but late Monday the mayor’s office confirmed to VOSD that restaurants would have more time to comply. The city is delaying enforcement of the rule. 

Christina Bibler, the director of economic development for the city of San Diego, said Tuesday, in a written statement that restaurants would have until Aug. 2 to remove the structures.

“In an effort to work with our clients and give businesses more time to meet the guidelines and enforcement of (Temporary Outdoor Business Operation Structures), the City has decided to begin enforcement on Monday, Aug. 2. Business owners are acutely focused on reopening and attracting clientele and the city would like to support these efforts through the month of July. This will allow the city and business associations more time to communicate with impacted businesses. Every TOBO permittee and business group will be sent a communication this week to make them aware of the extension,” she wrote.

When VOSD’s Mackenzie Elmer dove into the dilemma, she found that when outdoor dining was all that was allowed, many restaurants and cafes pounced. But the city had only allowed them to be in city rights of way — streets and sidewalks, etc. The city had provided even a model design for how to put a platform down to level out the new dining area. 

But many restaurants took that far and built nice structures with overhead lighting, plants and heaters — none of which were ever permitted. And those are what must come down. Elmer also tracked Little Italy’s particular peril with this decision. India Street was transformed into even more of a walkable plaza experience.  

The raised platform of an outdoor patio structure adjacent to Farmer's Table in Little Italy on May 11, 2021.
The raised platform of an outdoor patio structure adjacent to Farmer’s Table in Little Italy. / Photo by Megan Wood

“People put a lot of money into these structures,” Marco Li Mandri, chief executive administrator of the Little Italy Association, told Elmer. “We’d like to keep them forever.”

Neighborhood and business leaders had been under the impression that the structures complied with all rules. But building things in California is not easy. 

“California state building code has a ton of rules and requirements for a structure that’s expected to stay put. Permanent buildings require engineering and architectural studies, and compliance with state fire codes, the American Disabilities Act and environmental regulations,” Elmer wrote.

The city has a fire official, Fire Chief Doug Perry, whose job it is not to follow the mayor’s orders but to make sure buildings comply with state law. If there’s a terrible fire and a structure wasn’t in compliance, he’s the guy who would have to answer for it. And he said they’re not in compliance. 

“The city is expected to release a permanent outdoor business plan this fall, called Spaces as Places,” 10News reports.

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