California News

Santa Cruz, Capitola Extend Outdoor Dining Programs

Programs that make outdoor dining possible will extend into next year in Santa Cruz and Capitola, thanks to a vote by the city councils.

The Capitola Esplanade is one of the popular dining spots that is drawing diners with outdoor seating. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

By Aiyana Moya

Eating outside has become an essential part of the dining experience during the pandemic, and the programs that make outdoor dining possible will extend into next year in Santa Cruz and Capitola, thanks to approvals from the cities’ respective councils last week. 

But reactions to the move differ greatly between the two Santa Cruz County cities.

In Santa Cruz, multiple restaurant owners called in to express gratitude for the outdoor dining program, as did Executive Director of the Downtown Association Jorian Wilkins. 

“I know that (the program) has been a lifeline for so many businesses,” she said—the Downtown Association advocates for downtown Santa Cruz business.

During the Capitola council meeting, however, multiple callers raised concerns about garbage being left on the streets where diners eat, and complained about the noise outdoor dining generates.

One person living at the condos at the intersection of Monterey Avenue and the Esplanade said residents tolerated the noise caused by outdoor diners with the expectation that the program was temporary. Now that indoor dining has resumed, she said, she strongly opposed the extension.

Capitola Police Chief Terry McManus acknowledged there has been an increase in noise complaints—although not necessarily tied to outdoor dining. He received a similar rate of noise complaints prior to the outdoor dining program.

Additionally, with the Delta variant surging, it’s important to offer outdoor dining to businesses and customers who want it, said Capitola Council Member Kristen Petersen.

And in the city of Santa Cruz, there’s overwhelming interest among restaurant owners to provide that option: 96 temporary permits were issued to businesses throughout the pandemic. 

Currently, businesses can apply for free temporary permits to use parking spots, public sidewalks, alleyways and private property as dining areas. Santa Cruz hopes to revise this outdoor program to address safety and maintenance concerns, according to Santa Cruz Economic Development Manager Rebecca Unitt. When creating the current emergency program, the city prioritized a quick distribution of outdoor permits over detailed guidelines. The revision will establish more ground rules for restaurants.

MeloMelo Kava Bar owner Rami Kayali, called in during the Santa Cruz meeting to request an expansion of the current program’s parklet guidelines. He spoke to the challenges he faced when creating a parklet that accounted for the colder weather season. Kayali said he was reprimanded with a $1,200 fine per day due to his parklet’s overhead barrier.

Unitt said the material Kayali used did not adhere to the safety protocols the city requires, but that businesses can use pop-up tents and “temporary membrane structures” for the colder months.

In Santa Cruz, staff hopes to create a permanent parklet program that will begin after 2022. The permanent program will provide more specific guidelines for parklet structures, update the permit fee structure to waive or reduce fees for businesses, and reduce bureaucratic barriers to the permit approval process.

But in Capitola, after multiple callers raised concerns about outdoor diners, the council extended the outdoor dining program until 2022 but resolved to return in November to revisit the item. In the meantime, Capitola restaurant owners can expect an informal poll about outdoor dining.

No restaurant owners called into the Capitola meeting. If Santa Cruz is any indication, it is likely that owners in Capitola will also emphasize the importance of outdoor seating, and will advocate for a permanent outdoor program.

Ian McRae, who owns Hula’s Tiki Bar, said customers have come to expect an outdoor seating option.

“It seems like the dining experience has now changed dramatically. And I don’t see how we can go back. The public is going to demand to sit outside,” he said.

Santa Cruz Council also acted on these items: 

  • Council approved plans for the San Lorenzo Riverwalk Lighting Project, which will provide 55 light posts to illuminate the riverwalk for pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Council directed staff to review the request from the Homeless Garden Project to change the proposed location of its planned garden to the upper main meadow of Pogonip.
  • Council will hold a special meeting on Aug. 31 at 4:30pm to receive public comments on the possible implementation of a district-based election system. 

Capitola Council also acted on these items: 

  • Approved a 3% salary increase for law enforcement officers, through 2024.
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