By Shawn Raymundo
To help local businesses bounce back from months of closures related to the coronavirus pandemic, the city council this week approved a set of assistance strategies that will allow restaurants and shops to temporarily create more outdoor dining and retail space.
The city council on Tuesday, June 2, voted unanimously in favor of authorizing the city’s emergency services director to implement the strategies, which temporarily relax some of the city’s zoning restrictions regarding outdoor services and commercial banners.
“The local economic recovery is going to be challenging, as some businesses are unable to operate at full capacity,” the city stated in a report to the council, referring to social distancing requirements that limits a business’s available seating and space for customers.
Over the coming weeks, patrons in San Clemente can expect to see some shops and eateries set up more outdoor retail and dining space on both public and private property. Eventually, the city also intends to close off Avenida Del Mar to traffic on Sundays, allowing the stores and restaurants to utilize the street for outdoor services.
Under the strategies, businesses will also get a temporary pass when it comes to restrictions on hanging banners and signs, which have largely been used by shops lately to let customers know they’re open.
Late last month, the governor announced that California could move further into Stage 2 of his four-phased reopening plan, particularly easing restrictions when it comes to in-person dining at restaurants. Restaurants, which had previously only been allowed to serve takeout and delivery, can now offer dine-in seating again but with social distancing guidelines.
“Restaurants have the need to limit seating inside the restaurants, and reconfigure their kitchens to meet social distancing requirements within the tenant space,” City Planner Gabriel Perez told the council on Tuesday. “So that results in reduced revenue for the restaurants and making the financial recovery difficult.”
According to the city, businesses can apply for special activity permits offering temporary provisions to open up outdoor services on either private property, such as parking lots next to the storefront property, or on public property including sidewalks and adjacent on-street parking spaces.
The permit for use of private property for outdoor services would allow the restaurants and shops to access private sidewalks and up to 50% of their parking lots. The businesses would still need to maintain six feet of separation between tables and pathways.
Those businesses applying for the permit on public property would also need to require a six-foot buffer for tables and pathways, obtain comprehensive general liability insurance and apply for a special-event permit with the city.
Speaking with San Clemente Times by phone on Thursday, June 4, Perez said staff will review the permit applications for the outdoor activities on a case-by-case basis. Approved permits will be valid until Sept. 30, but he noted that there’s potential for extensions depending on the state of the public health crisis.
In mid-March, the council had adopted a proclamation declaring a local emergency amid the spread of COVID-19. According to the city, the declaration allows the council or the city manager to issue exceptions to local laws.
“So the permit is available. And could businesses do this previously? They could, but it was a little more cumbersome, and it was only good for 15 days,” Perez said. “This permit is good (until) Sept. 30.”
As for the closure of Del Mar, Jonathan Lightfoot, an associate planner and the city’s new economic development officer, said there’s no firm date set for that yet, as discussions are continuing over such things as duration.
“We don’t have a time frame yet, but the goal is as soon as possible,” Lightfoot said, noting that he’s tasked with working with the San Clemente Chamber of Commerce and the San Clemente Downtown Business Association (DBA) to iron out those details.
“The city is looking to the DBA to assist and come up with a proposal that best meets the needs of the businesses,” he said, adding: “The DBA is going to be assisting in communicating with members to provide a game plan, and we will be working to implement that.”
Shawn Raymundo is the city editor for the San Clemente Times. He graduated from Arizona State University with a bachelor’s degree in Global Studies. Before joining Picket Fence Media, he worked as the government accountability reporter for the Pacific Daily News in the U.S. territory of Guam. Follow him on Twitter @ShawnzyTsunami and follow San Clemente Times @SCTimesNews.