Del Mar sidewalk cafes gain support

More than 60 people attend special City Council meeting

More than 60 people packed into the Del Mar TV Studio and overflowed into the parking lot to show their support for the 15th Street sidewalk cafes at a special City Council meeting on June 15.

“I like what is happening,” lifelong resident Tensia Trejo said. “For a long time, we were sort of dead … I believe the cafes are going to give us that little uplift again.”

The meeting was scheduled after 14 residents called for the cafes’ removal a week prior because they said the high, solid walls narrowed the sidewalks and blocked ocean views. The residents were also upset the sidewalk cafe ordinance, adopted by the council in August 2008, allowed the cafes to bypass the Design Review Board.

City staff presented side-by-side photographs of before and after the cafe construction that showed how ocean views have been opened up after heavy bushes and trees were removed and replaced with taller jacarandas. With the old news racks and benches also removed, the sidewalk is still quite wide in most places except in front of Del Mar Pizza.

Benefits many

The four council members at the meeting agreed the process was not perfect, but said they were pleased with the sidewalk cafes and would wait until the end of the summer to evaluate what changes they might consider making changes to the ordinance.

“Overall, we received much more benefit that just the sidewalk cafe … we got a new sidewalk, new planting,” said Councilman Carl Hilliard. “This is going to be a great asset to the community.”

The city received more than 150 e-mails in the last week, the vast majority in favor of the new outdoor cafes. Of the 34 individuals who spoke at the meeting, 27 supported the improvements along 15th Street and applauded the council for streamlining the review process to encourage investment in downtown Del Mar.

‘Streamlining a plus’

“Had the council not helped streamline this effort, and it still took many, many months, these projects would not have been done,” said Dan Sbicca, owner of Sbicca restaurant.

A handful of residents reiterated their concerns that the streamlined process left out community input.

“I am in favor of sidewalk cafes,” Brooke Eisenberg-Pike said. “I am here about the process, they should have gone through the DRB.”

Mayor Crystal Crawford suggested the council consider creating a hybrid review process, in which the chairs of the Design Review Board and Planning Commission and a council subcommittee provide advisory input on plans.

"… so that we still have a streamlined application process,” Crawford said. “But we still get the value of another set of eyes looking at the project.”

Considering options

Councilmen Don Mosier said he wanted to have some kind of design board review for cafes that change the city’s hardscape and Councilman Mark Filanc said he would support additional review as long as it did not slow down the process.

A few residents said they were concerned about allowing private businesses to use city property at the low price of $2 a square foot per year.

Bob Fleet, owner of Del Mar Pizza, said it would take him more than 10 years to earn back his investment in the sidewalk cafe.

“I did not do this for the economic benefit of building a patio - I did it because I thought it was the right thing to do for the community,” Fleet said. “I wanted to be a part of the catalyst that helped revitalize downtown Del Mar.”

He submitted a petition with more than 200 signatures supporting the new patio.

The council said they had not wanted to set the rate too high because the city would benefit in other ways.

“What we do get out of it is a sense of place,” Filanc said. “I think what happened on 15th Street is a treasure for the city.”