Council paves way for more sidewalk cafe seating

Visitors to downtown San Luis Obispo may find more sidewalk cafes after decisions by the City Council on Tuesday to eliminate some fees and lower others for restaurant owners who want to install such a dining experience.

On a 4-1 vote, with Councilman John Ashbaugh voting against it, the council decided to introduce an ordinance that amends the city’s sidewalk cafe rules, according to City Clerk Elaina Cano.

City Planner Phil Dunsmore said it dealt with two levels of outdoor dining: sidewalk cafes where a restaurant installs barriers, pays rent for the space and then can do things such serve alcohol; and a second tier involving a more casual experience where restaurants can set up a few tables and chairs, serve no alcohol and pay no rent.

The council voted to raise the square footage rent from 66 cents to $1 a month for the first tier.

And it decided that restaurants that set up tables outside in the more casual dining settings can still shoo people away who are not ordering at the restaurant.

The council also decided to eliminate the requirement that restaurants pay $1,700 in parking fees for the additional visitors the dining would attract, and lowered an encroachment fee from $789 to $279 for space taken.

The conceptual plan for the city has long stated the need to make “downtown a varied and exciting place.”

The city adopted the original sidewalk cafe ordinance in 2000, but no businesses had come forward to use it.

In a related action, the council voted 5-0 to adopt a more set procedure for converting parking spaces to sidewalk for dining and other uses. The only change the council made to the staff suggestion was in requiring a 30-day instead of a 10-day period to notify the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce and the San Luis Obispo Downtown Association when such changes will be made.