Encinitas eases outdoor alcohol service rules for restaurants

Eateries extend onto the street on Highway 101.
Eateries extend onto the street on Highway 101.
(Karen Billing)

Change comes after county ordered indoor restaurant dining to cease again due to coronavirus pandemic


“It’s important that the public knows what we’re doing to support our local businesses ...We are focused on helping our local businesses during this tough time.”

— Encinitas City Councilmember Joe Mosca

In response to San Diego County’s new shutdown order for indoor restaurant dining, Encinitas will temporarily allow restaurants to serve alcohol along with food at outdoor dining tables on city sidewalks, parking spots and other public places.

The City Council’s unanimous decision to lift its longstanding ban on the possession of open alcoholic beverage containers on public streets, sidewalks, alleys or other public property came during a special meeting Friday, July 10.

The change will only apply to restaurants that already have a state license to serve alcohol and are obtaining permission to use the city’s public spaces near their businesses as temporary outdoor eating areas. It doesn’t mean that anyone can set up a portable cooler and start selling open containers of beer to passersby on a city sidewalk.

Council members said the regulatory change is urgently needed in the wake of the Tuesday, July 7, county health order closing all indoor dining at restaurants, bars, wineries, distilleries and breweries indefinitely due to the new surge in coronavirus cases. The spread of the virus is thought to occur more widely indoors, and thus the county is allowing outdoor dining to continue.

“I think we need to get this out (now) for businesses that are clearly on the brink,” Mayor Catherine Blakespear said before the council vote, noting that the city’s restaurants were already struggling before the county issued its new re-closure order.

Councilman Tony Kranz agreed, saying, “many business owners are in survival mode” and may be already going “rogue” and attempting to serve alcohol at their new outdoor table areas in order to get by. Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said the measure is a good “catch-up” decision, noting that the council recently granted restaurants that lack their own outdoor dining space permission to set up tables and chairs on public property under its “Shared Street” Pilot Program.

A city staff report produced for the Friday, July 10, meeting indicates that the council initially voted in May to temporarily create more outdoor dining space for the city’s hard-hit restaurants by allowing them to encroach into unused open areas as well as to use parking spots on private land. In mid-June, the council granted restaurants permission to serve alcohol in the new outdoor dining areas on private property.

In order to serve alcohol at their new outdoor dining tables on city sidewalks and other public spots, restaurants will need to demonstrate that they are meeting county health requirements, and have authorization from the county Sheriff’s Department and state board of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

All outdoor alcohol and food service must end by 10 p.m. daily and the authorization is only a temporary measure linked to the coronavirus pandemic situation.

The city has allowed restaurants to extend service onto the street on the 101.
(Karen Billing)

Other North County cities that are now allowing alcohol service in public right-of-way areas include Escondido, Oceanside, San Marcos, Solana Beach and Vista, the city staff report notes.

Kranz said he’d like city employees to look into valet parking options, perhaps even using the City Hall lot, to encourage more people to patronize these new outdoor dining areas.

“We need to be creative in ways we can entice people out of their cars,” he said.

He and other council members also repeatedly stressed to city employees that the approval process for these special eating areas needs to be as fast as possible -- think “streamlined,” Councilman Joe Mosca said.

Blakespear mentioned that the council will be in recess throughout the month of July and said city staff will have the authority to allow other operations, such as retail businesses or churches, to set up outdoor operations, if the county enacts additional coronavirus-related restrictions in the coming weeks.

-- Barbara Henry is a freelance reporter for The San Diego Union-Tribune