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Pismo Beach restaurants struggling with limited outdoor dining options

Posted at 6:23 PM, Jul 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-24 00:12:56-04

Restaurant owners in Pismo Beach fear they'll be out of business by winter if they don't get more outside dining accommodations now.

Some owners are asking Pismo Beach city leaders to close downtown streets so they can bring tables and chairs outside during the pandemic, but so far the city has turned down that idea.

As it stands now, restaurants can only set up outside if it's on their own property, but many don’t have that luxury.

“We're all trying to figure out how to survive but unfortunately, it feels like a lot of that is being put on the backs of the really small businesses here,” said Sarah Paddack, owner of Chipwrecked.

It’s a burden she says could be lifted if the city made changes.

"Closing down traffic and allowing for wider pedestrian passageways and space for lines for a store is critical right now,” Paddack said.

City leaders say demand for parking and ADA compliance are big reasons why that isn't happening.

"Because we are a coastal city, the California Coastal Commission regulates public access to the beach so that is something the Coastal Commission would have an opinion on in terms of reducing parking,” said Jorge Garcia, Director of Management Services for Pismo Beach.

Garcia added that the city tried to offer up concrete tables near the pier to provide seating for downtown customers, but he said there wasn't enough turnover time to sanitize them in between each use.

Restaurant owners are in a bind, trying to keep customers happy and employees paid after the statewide closure of indoor dining set back business once again.

“It makes zero sense that [the city] wouldn't work with us on this,” said Billy Hales, a Central Coast restaurant and bar owner.

Hales has made outdoor dining work at his other in San Luis Obispo and Arroyo Grande with respective city-wide pilot programs.

However, that's not the case for the Shell Beach Brewhouse, which he owns in Pismo Beach.

Hales said insurance won't cover the back parking lots because they are too steep and building a deck would be too expensive, so he's asking the city to use four street parking spaces and in exchange, is offering his two parking lots as public parking.

“Let these restaurants keep their doors open, give them a parking space or two if you can. That's what every other city on the Central Coast is doing,” Hales said.

According to Garcia, city leaders have been in contact with Hales to work through other possible solutions to address insurance issues.

Ada's Fish House on Price St. transformed its dining space in a matter of days.

The owner called the city’s outdoor permit process ‘simple,’ but it could have been different without a parking lot.

“I couldn't imagine not having a parking lot. I think the city needs to really step in and give these other businesses some leeway,” said Douglas MacMillan, owner of Ada’s Fish House and Rosa’s Italian Restaurant.

City leaders said they understand that not one size fits all and that they are continuing to have conversations with restaurant owners to find solutions.

"It's a balancing act that we are trying to weigh against, but so far it's been successful. The private parking lots have shown to be an effective use of space," said Garcia.

Owners like Hales said those solutions need to be found fast or restaurants might not be able to make it.

“For two years we've dealt with Shell Beach Road being torn up, but we soldiered on because we knew it was going to be beneficial for everyone when it was complete,” Hales said. “It’s almost done now, but right now we need the city's help."