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By C. Jayden Smith

Visitors to San Clemente’s downtown area could soon be able to enjoy dining outdoors once again, if the San Clemente City Council votes to introduce a new ordinance on Tuesday night, March 15.

Council approval of the ordinance, which proposes a zoning amendment, would establish regulations and design standards for businesses looking to bring back their outdoor dining patios, or parklets, on both public and private properties.

If approved, the parklet dining program would also set monthly licensing fees from the participating eateries. The city anticipates collecting between $5,000 and $10,000 a month in general fund revenues from the temporary program.

After the previous temporary dining program expired—on Nov. 15 for downtown area restaurants and on Dec. 31 for all others—both the Design Review Subcommittee and the Planning Commission discussed aspects of restarting the initiative, leading to the upcoming proposal Tuesday evening.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of both Assembly Bill No. 61 and Senate Bill 314 last October permitted outdoor dining to continue for a year after California ends the current State of Emergency or until Dec. 31, 2023, whichever date comes first. 

As a result, San Clemente can establish an ordinance to regulate a temporary outdoor dining program, which would allow any food or beverage business to participate. 

At the Planning Commission’s March 2 meeting, it unanimously voted to adopt a resolution that recommended the council approve the potential ordinance and set regulations and design guidelines for the program, which would also end on either Dec. 31, 2023, or 365 days after California’s State of Emergency ends, whichever occurs first. 

During the meeting, the proposed regulation that received the most scrutiny was the guideline that stipulated a 16-seat limit outdoors.

Commissioner Gary McCaughan expressed concern over restaurants using more seats than their permits allowed.

“I don’t think it’s really fair that they can make themselves larger than what they were originally permitted with,” he said.

Conversely, public speakers associated with restaurants claimed that during the previous period of outdoor dining, more customers wanted to sit outdoors, and the speakers felt that the limit could negatively affect their business. That regulation could be one that receives significant attention from the council Tuesday night.

Other proposed regulations, which are intended to streamline the approval process for constructing the parklets, include the in-lieu parking fee that would make up for the loss of public parking spots, as well as limiting the amount of spaces used by each parklet and placing concrete planters as buffers between the patios and vehicle traffic.

City staff determined that the program would be consistent with San Clemente’s General Plan codes that promote flexibility and outdoor dining, so long as they create community-gathering spaces and do not impede pedestrian access, among the other requirements. 

“These Policies and others illustrate a clear goal to establish a walkable, entertaining, and social environment, especially within the downtown area,” the report read. 

Other standards within the code stated that parklets can be established on public streets with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour or less, on private property, or on sidewalks greater than 10 feet in width.

Unless otherwise changed, the city would limit parklets to occupy either three angle-in spaces or two parallel parking spaces.

The ordinance also proposes to set the participation fee for businesses operating a parklet on public property at $2 per square foot per month, and charging businesses using private property $1 per square foot per month.

“The City desires to find a balance between a cohesive street scene while also allowing room for individual business character in parklets,” the city said in its report.

C. Jayden Smith graduated from Dana Hills High in 2018 before pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in digital and broadcast journalism from the University of North Texas. After graduating in December 2020, he reported for the Salina Journal in Salina, Kansas. Jayden loves college football and bothering his black lab named Shadow.

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