Encinitas to pursue keeping outdoor dining, alcohol service changes

The downtown Encinitas sign.
(Charlie Neuman / San Diego Union-Tribune/Zuma Pre)

Measures enacted during pandemic giving temporary regulatory relief to businesses could come to an end next year


One of the few bright spots during the pandemic has been the temporary regulatory changes that allowed Coast Highway 101 restaurants to create new outdoor dining areas on sidewalks and parking spots, Encinitas City Council members said Dec. 15.

Given the vibrancy these changes have brought to the coastal corridor, it is well worth making them permanent, even if this will require a lengthy state Coastal Commission approval process, they told city planners.

“In a lot of ways, this is a long-time dream come true,” Councilwoman Kellie Shay Hinze said.

Hinze, a former executive director of the Leucadia 101 Main Street Association, said she doubted that the state’s and city’s easing of outdoor dining and alcohol sales regulations would have happened without the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, though it was something that restaurant owners have long wanted. She added that many of the long-held fears that prevented the easing of these restrictions, especially the ones related to alcohol service, “have largely not been realized” since the changes occurred.

Pandemic-related regulatory relief changes that Encinitas started taking advantage of in spring and summer 2020 included allowing restaurants to sell alcohol with to-go meals; waiving the extra parking requirements for expanding outdoor dining areas; granting restaurants the ability to set up outdoor dining areas in public parking spots; and allowing wait staff to serve patrons alcohol in these new outdoor dining areas.

On Dec. 15, city planners asked the council for direction on what do when these temporary, regulatory relief measures expire. The governor’s latest extension of a state executive order regarding some of the regulations is set to expire March 31 and the City Council’s resolution allowing on-street dining will expire three months after that, Planning Manager Anna Colamussi said.

She offered the council eight options, both short-term proposals and long-term ones, saying “you can chose one, several or all.”

Council members said they definitely could support continuing to waive the parking requirement, which normally would require businesses to add extra parking if they expand their outdoor dining areas. They also supported continuing to allow alcohol service in the outdoor dining areas on private property and within the sidewalk regions.

They didn’t support the staff’s proposal to limit the number of parking spaces that could be converted to outdoor dining areas, saying the staff’s proposal of a 50-percent limit seemed “arbitrary.”

In the long-term category, council members said they supported revising the city’s sidewalk cafe policy to allow alcohol in the public right-of-way area and conducting a parking study on the impact of converting parking spots into outdoor dining areas.

The parking study data would be useful, council members said, if the city seeks approval from the state Coastal Commission to allow the outdoor dining areas to remain permanently. That approval process is likely to take a year and the city could end up in a situation where the temporary measures have to be removed and then are allowed to come back later, Colamussi said.

Council members encouraged her and other city planners to do all they could to prevent that from happening.

“It just seems insane that we’re going to require (the restaurants) to pull out all these improvements while the bureaucracy grinds on,” Councilman Tony Kranz said.

Councilman Joe Mosca noted that many other coastal cities, including Santa Barbara, have greatly expanded their outdoor dining areas in their downtowns. The state may institute an expedited approval process if many cities in the state coastal zone are all asking to keep them, he said.