The decision was made by a 4–1 vote during a June 1 city council meeting in an effort to reclaim some of the downtown street’s parking, which is now occupied by restaurants and retail shops, leaving little space to park cars.
Restaurants along Avenida Del Mar began utilizing the spaces last July after the state ordered restaurants to shut down indoor operations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
San Clemente’s Economic Development Officer Jonathon Lightfoot told the council that the purpose of allowing restaurants to expand their dining to parking spaces was to offset the fallout from shuttered indoor operations.
But when the state reopens June 15, social distancing will no longer be required, and restaurants will be free to fill their dining rooms to capacity once again.
“We have several restaurants that are using public property, so what I’m proposing is to use a license agreement, similar to a rental agreement, to charge for use of space in the public sector,” Lightfoot said.
“Again, the program was initially intended to help these businesses recover loss of capacity, and on June 15, they’ll be able to recover that capacity. But we’ve also learned in the past year that the community enjoys this amenity, and so there’s some public benefit in retaining that element.”
While use of the parking space for restaurants will no longer be free, the general thought among the council was to charge a fee that restaurants who wished to continue the outdoor expansion could afford, yet making it large enough to disincentive restaurants who didn’t need the extra space.
Under the new rule, which will be in place until Nov. 15, restaurants who want to use parking spaces to accommodate diners must remove their tables and chairs from city sidewalks.
“When we’re walking past some of these restaurants, and some of them that have the tables, it’s very difficult to walk through,” Mayor Kathleen Ward said. “And I can tell you, I went out to the street in order to walk because I didn’t want to walk through there. And so I really think that does need to stop because it’s it stopped me from going to the second block.”
Aside from paying the fee, restaurants that want to use parking spaces will also be required to operate at least 8 hours per day for 6 days per week.
Micky Rathman, a San Clemente resident who owns a retail store on Avenida Del Mar, told the council that she supported extending the outdoor dining possibilities despite the lack of parking.
“We’re incredibly grateful for what [the council has] done to help us to remain a vital and downtown area that still serves our community,” Rathman said. “I do believe that the success of our downtown business district is because all of us are successful.
“I think that there are some other things that … we can do to help parking downtown. That may be to have some temporary Wayfinding signage so that people who are visiting from out of town know that there is additional parking on streets off of [Avenida] Del Mar. … I know that we don’t necessarily love signs in San Clemente, so potentially these Wayfinding signs could be temporary just like the outdoor dining decks.”