Taqueria Santa Cruz can stay open later — but only if it reduces noise violations

A popular taco restaurant on upper Monterey Street in San Luis Obispo can stay open until as late as 10 p.m. — but only if it complies with city noise standards, the City Council ruled Tuesday night.

Complaints from neighbors about late-night noise coming from Taqueria Santa Cruz Express sparked a City Council discussion over appropriate hours of operation — a policy controversy the council said raises questions about noise in mixed-use buildings citywide.

For now, the taqueria can only stay open until 9 p.m., with the option to remain open until 9:30 p.m. if it can meet noise compliance standards issued by the city. After a period of successful compliance, the taqueria would be eligible to apply to stay open until 10 p.m., as the business requested, council members said.

Neighbors concerned by restaurant noise

Neighbors who live in the complex, some directly above the eatery, near the intersection of Johnson Avenue, said they’ve been disturbed for the past few years by the activities of the restaurant, which they say can last well past its closing time of 9 p.m.

The restaurant is currently in violation of interior noise standards.

“Not in my bedroom is a different thing than not in my backyard,” neighbor Mark Henry said at the meeting. “For years, every single night, the taqueria operated a fan as late as 11 p.m. or longer, and that has had a severe negative impact on residents.”

The council voted 4-1 with Councilman Aaron Gomez dissenting to allow the 9:30 p.m. closure time if the restaurant can fully comply with noise violations that currently are coming from the inside of The Mix at Monterey building at 1308 Monterey St.

“Running a restaurant is no small feat,” Vice Mayor Andy Pease said. “We appreciate that business in our community.”

Taqueria Santa Cruz003660
Taqueria Santa Cruz, located at 1308 Monterey St. in San Luis Obispo. David Middlecamp dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Mayor says vote was ‘challenging’

Neighbors cited noise created after hours as the restaurant cleans up, and from those who gather outside the restaurant, as well.

“While the Taqueria may claim they can close up quickly, this just would not be an accurate statement as they have shown historically,” said Amy Blaylock, a second floor resident in an email to the city. “Closing a restaurant is not like closing a retail store, no matter how the Taqueria may wish to present it.”

Mayor Heidi Harmon said she welcomes businesses in the complex she understands to be run by immigrant families, including Jaffa Cafe and Raku Ramen, which both close at 9 p.m., saying it’s important to her to support diversity and groups who can feel less welcome in the community.

Harmon also noted her sympathy for neighbors.

“This is an interesting, challenging one,” Harmon said. “I’m so supportive of the families and the businesses in this space... Also, as someone who’s generally in bed by 8 p.m. and asleep by 9 p.m., I sympathize with the neighbors.”

The issue of noise in mixed-use buildings citywide is one that the council has struggled with before and may in the future.

San Luis Obispo - Regular Meeting City of SLO

During a use permit approval of the Escape Room on Marsh Street, the council permitted the business to close at 10 p.m. on weekends and 8 p.m. on weekdays after hearing from neighbors.

“The long-term, big picture is we have to figure out a better way to do our mixed-use, especially in lively, urban areas like upper Monterey,” Councilwoman Carlyn Christianson said. “We know this discussion is coming.”

Restaurant exceeding noise levels set by city

Neighbors said they have gone through several steps with the city and taqueria owners to try to minimize the noise from kitchen exhaust fans near their residential patio.

A rooftop fan near their homes was initially unpermitted when the business opened in 2016, but was permitted this year with an acoustical shroud to reduce noise. But the restaurant is still exceeding interior noise limits (50 decibels), according to the city.

The business has been tasked with minimizing those noise levels to stay open later.

The city has established 10 p.m. as the appropriate closing time cutoff in noise-sensitive areas, though the city’s staff or council may require earlier closing times based on review of specific applications under city policy.

Taqueria Santa Cruz representative, Carol Florence, of Oasis Associates, said late-night service makes up a significant portion of the restaurant’s business, as much as 40 percent.

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Nick Wilson covers the city of San Luis Obispo and has been a reporter at The Tribune in San Luis Obispo since 2004. He also writes regularly about K-12 education, Cal Poly, Morro Bay and Los Osos. He is a graduate of UC Santa Barbara and UC Berkeley and is originally from Ojai.