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Solana Beach extends permits for outdoor dining at restaurants

SOLANA BEACH — With temporary use permits regarding the use of outdoor dining for restaurants and cafés in Solana Beach set to expire, the City Council unanimously agreed to extend them through the end of the year or until the emergency public health order limiting indoor dining and social distancing requirements is lifted.

The permits were originally given in June of last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and health orders limiting indoor dining in restaurants. In November 2020, they were extended until April 30, 2021, before the extension this week. The permits are now extended through Jan. 1, 2022, or until the health order is lifted, whichever comes first.

“While COVID transmission and statistics continue to improve in the county and indoor use and activities are becoming more relaxed, per the county public health order, businesses still face an extreme economic challenge and uncertainty,” Community Development Director Joseph Lim said.

Solana Beach has approved temporary use permits for 24 restaurants in the city since June of last year.

Two of those businesses are the Pillbox Tavern and Saddle Bar, which were the subjects of a letter sent to the city by a neighboring business, Urich Dental, complaining about the restaurants’ outdoor dining setup.

However, the city says the business has since rescinded its letter and has worked with the adjacent businesses to come up with a mutually beneficial solution.

One of the owners of Saddle Bar, Tom van Betten, spoke during public comments in support of the permit extensions.

“We’ve learned many lessons during the COVID-19 experience,” van Betten said. “Safety is one of the most important factors in people getting back to normal life. Science agrees that gathering outdoors is much safer than indoors. And more importantly it gives people the choice.”

Larna Hartnack, a Solana Beach resident and patron of Pillbox Tavern, also spoke in support of the extension, who described the prospect of taking the permits away from restaurants like “cutting off their legs after a year where their hands have been tied behind their back.”

“Pillbox specifically did everything by the book,” Hartnack said. “They were closed when they were supposed to be, unlike many other restaurants, they figured out how to make takeout work and how to take care of their staff.”

Hartnack also says the staff at Pillbox and other restaurants in Solana Beach have been a bright spot for patrons in an otherwise difficult time.

Councilmember Jewel Edson also agreed that one of the few silver linings during the pandemic has been the expansion of outdoor dining at Solana Beach restaurants.

“In my opinion the temporary use permits have benefited not only our businesses, but in many ways the charming look, feel and vibrancy of our city,” Edson said.

It is unclear when the public health order regarding indoor dining at restaurants will be fully lifted. Gov. Gavin Newsom has set a date of June 15 for the ending of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy, but Solana Beach City Manager Greg Wade points out that does not mean that the health order will be lifted at that time.

“I think the governor has also made clear that the mask mandate would likely stay in place in some form or fashion and my guess is so too would the public health order,” Wade said.

There was also support on the council for taking more action should the public health order be lifted prior to the end of the year to give restaurants more options for their outdoor dining.

After the unanimous vote, Mayor Lesa Heebner congratulated the restaurants.

“We’re pleased to see you outside still and can’t wait to see you all and tip you,” Heebner said.