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By C. Jayden Smith

San Clemente City Council introduced a new ordinance at Tuesday night’s meeting on March 15, voting, 3-1, to resume the city’s outdoor dining program through a new zoning amendment.

Councilmember Kathy Ward voted against the ordinance, and Councilmember Laura Ferguson was absent.

The council’s vote establishes regulations and design standards for restaurants looking to bring back their outdoor dining patios, or parklets, on both public and private properties, and sets up a monthly licensing fee from the participating eateries.

During deliberations on the program, the council amended some of the city staff’s recommendations, such as increasing the monthly participation fee for parklets on public property from $2 per square foot to $4, and eliminating a recommendation to prepare a decision package for a parking management plan.

The ordinance, which will go to a second reading of the City Council before becoming effective, allows for regulation of the temporary parklet dining to run through the end of 2023.

Ward reminded her colleagues that the latest version of the program was in response to the governor’s approval to allow localities to regulate such initiatives, and not a reaction to the emergency situation the pandemic presented to local businesses as had been the case before.

She said that the maximum number of 42 parking spaces that would be allowed to be occupied on Avenida Del Mar might be too many. During the previous program, the city granted 42 spaces to the restaurants. Referencing discussions councilmembers had previously, she said they talked about allowing only spaces to restaurants that don’t have outdoor dining.

Her concern regarded certain restaurants on Del Mar increasing their occupancy when they already have patios, parking waivers, and more seats than San Clemente’s code allows.

“It’s one of the ways that I could vote for this, is limiting (the program) to those who do not have (outdoor seating) if we truly wish to want to promote outdoor dining,” Ward said, adding: “Otherwise, we’re impacting the parking twice for the same business, and I don’t know what the reason would be for that.”

She added that she could not support the parklet program for any businesses other than those that serve food, because it would take away parking for residents and visitors.

Mayor Pro Tem Chris Duncan asked how the participation fees, including a $1-per-square-foot fee for parklets on private property, would help pay for the costs of operating the trolley.

In response, Economic Development Director Jonathan Lightfoot referred to Orange County Transpiration Authority grants that covered the cost when the trolley ran from October to December of 2021, in addition to parklet fees the city had collected from the restaurants.

“However, the amount of the grant upcoming, starting next year, is supposed to be a lower amount, so having a monthly intake would help the city to offset the additional costs,” Lightfoot said. “As of now, we’ll have to budget additional funds to operate the trolley in 2023.”

Duncan and Mayor Gene James both suggested that it may be necessary to increase the cost per square foot, which is how the council landed on a $4 fee. Councilmember Steven Knoblock favored the increased fee to use public parking, but suggested eliminating the fee on private parking altogether.

“I’m not in favor of (recommendation No. 4) at all,” Knoblock added, as Lightfoot told the council earlier the parking management plan could cost around $150,000. “I don’t think we need any more government by proxy; we don’t need any more consultants to tell us what we need to do on parking.”

He circled back to say that he did support the ordinance and that it seemed people enjoyed the initial outdoor dining program.

Knoblock made the initial motion to establish a $4 monthly cost per square foot for restaurants using public property and 50 cents for those using private property, and to eliminate a recommendation related to a parking management plan.

James made a friendly amendment to require businesses whose parklets will cover a handicapped parking space to find a different available spot within 150 feet.

Ward’s substitute motion increased the private-property fee to $2 per square foot and included the staff recommendation to ensure the city is ready if residents want to continue outdoor dining after 2023. After the private cost received debate, Duncan proposed that it return to $1, which Ward added to her motion.

Knoblock also amended his original motion to include flexibility in seating capacity and a maximum of 24 seats. The council did not decide to bifurcate the vote for both the 24- and 16-seat limits.

The council will next meet on April 5, when it’s expected to pass the ordinance in a second reading.

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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