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By Shawn Raymundo

A new program to charge local restaurants a monthly fee for using their private parking lots as outdoor dining areas is expected to help the city offset some of the costs associated with the early launch of the summertime trolley, while potentially freeing up additional parking for patrons.

In a 4-1 vote, with Councilmember Laura Ferguson opposed, the city council last month approved the temporary program that establishes a “parking displacement fee” of $100 per parking space per month on restaurants that wish to maintain their lots as open-air dining spaces.

According to the city, while the parking lots are on private property, the use of the space for dining has increased the demand for on-street public parking.

“For instance, a restaurant that uses its eight private parking stalls for tables and chairs potentially displaces eight on-street parking spaces,” Economic Development Officer Jonathan Lightfoot wrote in his report to the council.

Lightfoot further explained that the goal of the fee is to either open additional parking resources, give the city supplemental funds to cover the $18,500 cost of starting the trolley a couple of weeks ahead of schedule, or improve access and mobility in the downtown corridor.

The fee is estimated to give the city an additional $20,000 to $30,000 in revenue. Those funds could offset the city’s costs to rent private parking lots for public parking, which is budgeted at $42,000 a year. The funds could also pay for additional weekend trolley services beyond its Sept. 26 end date.

Lightfoot this week said that so far about nine restaurants, including Sonny’s Pizza and Pasta, Antoine’s and Pizza Port, have agreed keep their open-air spaces and will pay the monthly fee. He noted that Pizza Port, in particular, has opted for a hybrid approach, wherein half the lot will be designated for dining and the other half for parking.

Trey Broussard, assistant general manager for Pizza Port in San Clemente, said the restaurant was on board with helping the city by paying the fee, acknowledging that maintaining the outdoor dining area certainly helps the business in the long run, as well.

“We have so much space already in the building, but if we can get a few more people to hang out and enjoy the site, then why not?” he noted, adding that “on the weekends, it definitely gets crazy enough (inside) that doing the extra seating (outside) makes a difference.”

The latest fee program similarly follows the council-approved plans that has required downtown establishments, since this past June, to pay a $200 fee per space every month for using public parking spaces.

The fees for all restaurants opting to continue utilizing their outdoor dining concepts will expire in mid-November—at which time eateries will return to pre-pandemic operations. The Nov. 15 deadline is meant to coincide with Daylight Savings Time, when the demand for outdoor dining is reduced.

Unlike the license agreements with the downtown restaurants, which have been required to operate, at a minimum, six days a week for eight hours a day, eateries that have their own private parking lots aren’t subject to such restrictions.

SR_1Shawn Raymundo
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.

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