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San Diego Governments Extend Relief to Struggling Restaurants

New Grants, Easing of Outdoor-Use Restrictions Target Businesses Hit Hardest by Pandemic Reclosing’s

CoStar Image: San Diego has more than 4,000 restaurants, including many smaller independent operators reeling from pandemic-forced shutdowns.

By Lou Hirsh CoStar News

July 8, 2020 | 02:49 P.M.

Officials in San Diego are increasing efforts to support beleaguered restaurants and other small businesses hit by the latest pandemic-spurred orders to close again.

San Diego County supervisors have established a new $17 million assistance fund for visitor-dependent businesses in response to backlash from the companies that were forced to close their doors. The action this week came as San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer issued an executive order suspending regulatory red tape as well as related fees and enforcement for restaurants looking to boost their outdoor dining by using adjacent parking lots and sidewalks, after indoor dining rooms were ordered closed.

"This [executive order] is important to preserve people's jobs and to preserve public safety," Faulconer said at a news conference. "Public health experts have been clear: Two key tools to help slow the spread of the virus are open-air environments and physical distance."

Smaller, independent restaurants and the property landlords who house them are key components of a regional economy that is especially dependent on discretionary spending by tourists and locals. San Diego, the nation's eighth most-populous city, by itself has more than 4,000 total restaurants employing more than 55,000, according to municipal data.

Many of the region's visitor-focused businesses, including restaurants, hotels and other venues with food services, were already reeling from more than three months of lost revenue before state and local officials recently ordered dining rooms in San Diego and 22 other California counties reclosed for at least three weeks due to new surges in coronavirus cases.

Most of the local indoor dining rooms had reopened with limited capacities, distancing and hygiene protocols in just the prior two weeks amid gradual easing of statewide business shutdowns and state-at-home orders. Many restaurant operators have said they cannot survive if limited to carryout and delivery services, and many don't have space for outdoor dining.

County supervisors this week unanimously approved a $17 million grant program, funded from the region's $65 million in discretionary money allocated from a larger federal stimulus, geared to aiding restaurants and other hard-hit businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Recipients must be headquartered in San Diego County, have a minimum of one year of operating history as of Feb. 14 and produce documented financial hardship directly created by the coronavirus pandemic.

Under regular San Diego city rules, securing outdoor dining and retail permits can cost more than $1,000 and take several months to process. The mayor's executive order waives enforcement of city codes related to permits for sidewalk and parking-lot service on privately owned property, and authorizes restaurants to establish temporary amenities, including tables and chairs, within public right-of-way areas. Businesses cannot build new structures under the order.

Faulconer's order is scheduled to remain in effect until San Diego City Council approves more extensive measures to reduce fees and streamline permitting. Those measures are expected to be reviewed next week.

City officials are also considering a plan put forward last month by Faulconer, intended to create new hubs of "streateries" and "streetail" by allowing more outdoor dining and retail services on city-owned properties, including parking lots and street parking spaces. This plan would also reduce fees for special outdoor events by waiving processing costs and late fees for applicants to operate in the public right-of-way, and also let applicants close streets to conduct business outdoors.

Short-term street closures for outdoor business, organized by neighborhood business improvement districts, have already been approved for commercial areas including downtown San Diego's Little Italy and Gaslamp Quarter.

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