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San Diego Moves to Extend Outdoor-Oriented Help to Businesses Amid Pandemic

City Moves Follow State-Ordered Reclosings of Indoor Activities

Image via CoStar: San Diego is allocating $300,000 in grants to help small and independent businesses offer retail and dining services in outdoor spaces. (Getty Images)

By Lou Hirsh CoStar News

July 15, 2020 | 10:10 P.M.

Amid new statewide closings forced by the coronavirus pandemic, San Diego City Council has passed emergency measures to streamline permitting processes for outdoor dining and retail, while also calling on staff to find ways to let hard-hit businesses including barbershops, hair and nail salons operate outdoors.

Officials in the nation’s eighth most populous city also said they are processing requests from several neighborhood business groups looking to temporarily close off portions of local streets to enable outdoor commerce and further assist small businesses reeling from closures ordered this week by state and local health officials. One San Diego suburb, Poway, is considering letting city-based businesses such as gyms make use of city parks to operate on a short-term basis until longer term government financial relief can arrive or businesses can reopen.

San Diego City Council's emergency measures include significantly streamlining paperwork for approving outdoor dining and retail-sales permits for businesses looking to make use of privately owed sidewalks, parking lots and other nearby spaces, and shortening approvals to within hours or same-day instead of the usual processing that can take several months. Officials are also temporarily waiving some fees that run between $1,000 and $5,000 per location.

Key target beneficiaries are the city’s more than 4,000 restaurants that employ 55,000 and are significant employment and revenue-producing tenants in hundreds of retail centers citywide. The changes, which are in effect for at least the next 45 days, extend similar temporary provisions announced last week by Mayor Kevin Faulconer in an executive order.

“This is the kind of help and support needed to keep San Diegans employed, to keep our businesses safe, and make sure that city government is helping,” Faulconer said at a news conference prior to the July 14 council meeting.

San Diego was among 30 California counties ordered by Gov. Gavin Newsom to again close indoor operations for many types of businesses and activities, and the closings took effect at 12 a.m. July 15. Faulconer told City Council his office this week received “numerous calls” from businesses other than stores and restaurants looking to operate outdoors.

City staff are investigating whether barbershops and salons can do so, though officials said California cosmetology and other industry rules for sanitation and safety may not allow it.

In the meantime, officials said the city has received at least 35 proposals from businesses and neighborhood business advocacy organizations, for full street closures that could help local operators keep going with outdoor offerings. Requests from neighborhoods including La Jolla, Pacific Beach and Hillcrest are being processed through a newly created city website.

City Council also approved allocating $300,000 to further help businesses absorb permitting and outdoor preparation costs for the first 500 businesses that apply, with an emphasis on minority-owned small businesses.

“We must not forget about our minority-owned businesses in disadvantaged communities who have been disproportionately denied financial assistance and many of whom will have to bear a greater burden through this,” said Donna DeBerry, CEO of the Central San Diego Black Chamber of Commerce, in a statement.

City and county health officials did not immediately return requests for comment on how these short-term programs might be impacted if the state were to re-impose stay-at-home orders, a move that Los Angeles was already considering taking on its own but San Diego was not as of Wednesday morning.

Since many businesses don’t have sufficient adjacent outdoor commercial space, some cities are considering letting them use civic spaces such as public parks. The city of Poway, northeast of San Diego, was scheduled this week to consider a proposal by Mayor Steve Vaus to let city-based houses of religious worship along with fitness-oriented businesses – such as gyms and others offering yoga, Pilates and dance classes – to operate in city parks at no cost if they have a city business certificate and commercial insurance.

“We will require that all COVID-19 safety guidelines be adhered to, including rules regarding face coverings and social distancing,” Vaus said in a letter to Poway City Council. “I'm confident staff can establish a minimal application process and reservation guidelines that will be easy for the churches and business owners to navigate.”

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