SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The San Diego City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to support Mayor Kevin Faulconer's plan to expand outdoor dining and retail options during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The vote follows Faulconer's July 7 executive order that waived requirements for the temporary use of sidewalks and private parking lots as outdoor dining and retail venues to increase space for physical distancing. Tuesday's vote allows businesses to use adjacent on-street parking to operate while also waiving a majority of permitting fees.
"Our local restaurant and retail owners have shown incredible resolve and resilience throughout this pandemic. Many of those small businesses have been among the hardest hit and San Diegans are ready to support them safely and responsibly," Faulconer said. "The response we've seen to outdoor dining has been overwhelmingly positive, and this ordinance opens up so many more options for our small businesses as they work hard to rebound and recover."
In Kearny Mesa on Convoy Street, one lot reads "Businesses Open for Parking Lot Dining and Take-out." With the ever-changing rules, business owners say it's been a constant struggle trying to keep up and stay compliant, but with tents now set up, some feel at least they have a fighting chance.
"I don't think I can weather another three months of being closed,” said Ramona Fitness Center owner Peter San Nicolas.
San Nicolas said he's feeling the shutdown strain and doesn't know why clean gyms can't stay open.
“Exercise and eating healthy and taking care of your body is the best thing you can do," San Nicolas said.
At Liber8 Fit in University Heights, employees say they spend hours wiping down dumbbells, equipment while wearing masks and using sanitizer.
"We were very vigilant, we reduced our class size by 75%, we had enough equipment so there was 0 cross contamination,” said Angela Balistreri of Liber8 Fit.
San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer met in Kearny Mesa's Convoy District to talk the new ordinance that allows for more shops and restaurants to do outdoor dining.
“Right now every bit of business and economic activity counts, it is indeed a tough time for many,” Faulconer said.
The Mayor said $300,000 were allocated for the program that will waive fees and cut the permitting process red tape for 500 businesses.
“The ordinance today will expand outdoor dining to use on street parking in front of their businesses,” he said.
Faulconer says San Diego has over 4,000 restaurants that before the pandemic employed over 55,000 people. The ordinance is to help more minority owned businesses.
"Minority and women-owned businesses still face a persistent disadvantage," said Donna DeBerry of the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce.
Joon-Suk Kim, the owner of Tofu House owner said he understands it has been a very difficult time for business owners and is grateful for the outdoor plan.
But all businesses cannot move their operations outdoors easily, including gyms and salons.
"We're not making any money at this point, so then to be able to rent some fence to put around the equipment or take it in and out, that's one thing, but here in Ramona, it's 100 degrees plus,” San Nicolas said.
Hair stylists like Hair by Melissa are too are feeling the pain.
"We kind of just feel defeated right now, hopefully, it doesn’t last long, and we can get back to work,” said Melissa Meztler, owner of Hair by Melissa.
Many Places of Worship never reopened and kept services online. The San Diego Catholic Bishop Robert McElroy issued the statement:
"I have ordered that parishes throughout the diocese to suspend indoor Masses and other church gatherings until further notice."
Businesses are asking for fairness for small businesses just like the big-box stores.
“It's just been a strain it's like they want to put the working class the middle class out of business, but not the Costco, Target, Home Depot, so if you're allowing big business to stay in business, but not the small business, I just don't understand it,” San Nicolas said.
Previously, securing an outdoor sidewalk cafe permit could cost businesses more than $1,000 and take several months to process. This ordinance will help reduce applicant costs and the review process.
"Small businesses account for 98% of San Diego companies. Needless to say, the impact COVID-19 is having on our small, independent, and family- owned businesses is monumental," City Councilman Chris Cate said. "Outdoor dining gives businesses a fighting chance to make it another day, and I applaud Mayor Faulconer for his innovative efforts."
The ordinance also allocates $300,000 in further assistance by absorbing permitting costs for the first 500 businesses that apply with remaining applicants paying significantly reduced fees. Part of the funding is specifically for outreach and education on the program for small and disadvantaged businesses.
The city will enter into an agreement with the Strategic Alliance of San Diego Ethnic Chambers of Commerce -- comprised of the Asian Business Association of San Diego, the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, and the San Diego County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce -- to provide informational materials in multiple languages and target hard-to-reach communities and disadvantaged businesses.
"Working together to support communities of color that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 will help restaurants in these communities recover and continue to contribute to this vibrant economic and cultural landscape in San Diego," said Donna DeBerry, spokeswoman for the Strategic Alliance of Ethnic Chambers of Commerce.
Upon implementation, the mayor's ordinance will:
-- allow outdoor business operations for dining and retail in parking lots, on-street parking spaces, and sidewalks as well as neighboring business frontage with written permission of neighboring business owners;
-- waive special event permit fees to allow nonprofit applicants to close streets and conduct business outdoors faster and cheaper;
-- broaden allowances and reduce required permits for temporary signs;
-- allow for expanded wholesale distribution of food, beverages, and groceries directly to consumers while allowing for social distancing;
-- preserve mobility, safety and emergency access for pedestrians, and preserve requirements that ADA access and path of travel be maintained at all times;
-- require full compliance with all state and county health orders and guidance.