City leaders to open up sidewalk dining

SAN DIEGO – Getting outdoor seating is no picnic for local restaurant owners – it’s actually a slow and expensive process. On Thursday, San Diego City Council announced a plan to cut that red tape.

Members of the City Council unveiled their plans to relax the restrictions Thursday afternoon.

“We live in a beautiful city with fantastic weather and you shouldn’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a permit to eat outside,” City Councilman Kevin Faulconer said.

The plan would allow restaurants to set up a single row of tables along the side of the building. It would be a simple over-the-counter permit instead of the current multi-step  bureaucratic process.

“That still allows a clear path of travel along the sidewalk,” City Councilwoman Lorie Zapf said.  “There would be no barrier, so that would be free open dining like you find throughout Europe.”

The OB Noodle House has good food and good drinks at a good price, however it’s not known for outdoor seating.

“We’ve been here for five years. We’ve been trying to get it for four and a half,” Noodle House owner Steven Yeng said. “We just can’t afford it.”

It would cost Yeng more than $15,000 to add a 112 square foot outdoor patio because of city and California Coastal Commission regulations.  That’s a tall order for a small business with even smaller profits, however the city may serve up a solution by this summer.

More seats mean more dollars for the region. A recent report by the California Restaurant Association shows every dollar spent in restaurants like the OB Noodle House brings another $0.63 to the local economy. Restaurants employ about one out 12 workers in the county.

“Restaurant sales are the largest contributor of taxable retail sales in San Diego County,” City Council President Todd Gloria said. “Sales in restaurants in San Diego are projected to reach $2.9 billion.”

The proposal is on its way to San Diego’s Planning Commission, and officials hope to get a vote on it by this summer.