CARLSBAD — The city will continue its temporary outdoor dining permits to help businesses offset financial losses related to COVID-19 emergency orders.
City staff presented its report to the Carlsbad City Council during its June 7 meeting as the city is preparing to move forward with permanent permits for businesses currently using temporary ones.
The measures were put in place in July and September of 2020 when state and local emergency orders were put in place to help restaurants and retailers combat the impacts of the pandemic. According to Eric Lardy, a principal planner for the city, the state is still under emergency health orders.
With social distancing guidelines and capacity limits in place, those businesses lobbied for and were granted new but temporary regulations to fight off the financial losses as best they could.
“We’ll work with any business owner that wants to legalize these uses under our regulations permanently,” Lardy said. “There are multiple phases both inside and outside of the Village area. Our strategy is to work with anybody.”
According to the staff report, the city issued 100 private property permits for temporary expansions and 28 right-of-way use permits for sidewalk dining, curb cafés or outdoor displays. Nine businesses in the Village applied for both.
All right-of-way permits were in the Village, while 26 private licenses were in the Village and the rest elsewhere in the city. According to the report, 60% are for dining and 40% for other retail businesses.
According to the staff report, just 41 businesses have continued to use either a right-of-way or private property permit.
“It’s vitalizing to the downtown area,” Councilman Keith Blackburn said. “Since I’ve been on the council, one of the discussions has always been how do we bring more business to the downtown area. I think these give it personality, vitality … and with our weather, the tourists enjoy it.”
The city defines a curb café as a deck structure allowing seating to extend from the sidewalk to parking spaces. For example, Garcia’s Mexican Restaurant and Oak + Elixir are just two of those businesses using a curb café.
The staff report estimates that businesses occupy 45 to 65 private parking spaces with a permit within the Village and Barrio Master Plan.
However, council members Peder Norby and Teresa Acosta expressed slight concerns with the permits. Norby said businesses are profiting off building into a public space where taxpayers aren’t compensated fairly, while Acosta and Blackburn had safety concerns.
Acosta said years ago; she was nearly hit by a car. At the same time, at a curbside café, Blackburn mentioned the accident in the Gaslamp District in San Diego several days ago, where a vehicle smashed into an outdoor dining area.
“Our city (staff) said it’s very rare for that kind of thing to happen,” Blackburn added.
Meanwhile, according to the staff report, those holding a private property permit are allowed to continue the temporary activations until Jan. 1, 2024, thanks to Assembly Bill 61. Businesses who do not want to continue with the temporary status can remove the improvements from their parking lots within 90 days of the sunset of AB 61.
In a July 2021 survey, 88% of businesses said the permits helped their company recoup a percentage of lost revenue, with 7% saying they could recoup all revenue, per the staff report. Also, 94% said they would be willing to meet city design standards and building codes for permanent outdoor activations, while 79% said they are interested in continuing outdoor operations.
According to a survey conducted in winter 2021, 93% of residents said they enjoyed outdoor dining, while 62% want more sidewalk cafés and 51% more private outdoor dining areas. As for parking, 61% said the impacts were not noticeable, while 60% said curb cafés should be allowed for up to four spaces.