Skip to main content

City of San Diego Eases Rules on Outdoor Space, Enabling Hospitality Businesses to Stay Open Amid COVID-19 Pandemic


SAN DIEGO, CA (August 14, 2020) — The COVID-19 pandemic has caused public health authorities to ban indoor dining. Smart restaurant owners are adapting their business models quickly by seeking permits to open “parklets” in parking spaces – a new tool in their survival playbook.

A parklet transforms curbside parking spaces into a place for restaurants to set up tables and serve people outside. The City of San Diego recently made it easier to open a parklet for retailers and restaurants and has waived some fees. The idea is to give businesses more room to make money amid new social distancing restrictions that disallow indoor dining in restaurants.

Marco Polo Permits has fielded dozens of inquiries from restaurant owners and has processed more than 12 successful parklet permits in the past month for its restaurant clients, said permitting and licensing expert Marco Polo Cortes, owner of Marco Polo Permits. Cortes has extensive experience in permitting outdoor dining, having advised the California Restaurant Association on streamlining regulations for sidewalk cafes.

“A parklet is another tool that the government is providing to help restaurants survive. It allows a restaurant to serve its customers on the space formerly occupied by a parking spot,” Cortes said. “If they can set up three or four tables, the restaurant could generate additional revenue. That’s money that can be used by the restaurant to stay viable by paying rent, employee wages and overhead.”

San Diego restaurant with outdoor parklet

San Diego restaurants, such as Civico 1845 in Little Italy, are installing “parklets” – outdoor dining utilizing street parking. Marco Polo Permits assists with the applications for parklet permits.

Cortes was recently interviewed by ABC 10News about the application process for parklets. According to ABC 10News, nearly 250 restaurants have the green light to move outside, with another 33 permits in the queue. More than two dozen Little Italy restaurants, including several clients of Marco Polo Permits, are among San Diego’s first to install parklets.

The parklets are expected to be allowed by the City of San Diego until the public health emergency is lifted.

According to Cortes, businesses should consider seeking a parklet permit if they meet these criteria:

  1. There is diagonal, parallel parking adjacent to the restaurant or a parking lot next door that could be leased by the restaurant.
  2. The proposed area provides enough space for a safety buffer zone that separates the tables from passing vehicles.
  3. A large sidewalk is helpful, to allow for a 4-foot zone of clearance for access mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“Not every neighborhood is a good fit for this program. Business owners have been responsible, knowing when they can and cannot take advantage of the ability to set up a parklet,” Cortes said.

About Marco Polo Permits
Marco Polo Permits is a local, state and federal government permitting, licensing and land use consulting business. Operating in San Diego County, Marco Polo Cortes is a local, regional and nationally recognized small business advocate and consultant specializing in hospitality businesses. With over 20 years of experience advocating for businesses small and large, supporting efficiencies and common sense policies that help reduce the often duplicative and burdensome permit and licensing challenges of business owners. Marco Polo Permits is proud to serve a diverse portfolio of clients in the hospitality and land-use industries with successful permit and licensing services. Clients include North Park Game Coin-Op Room, Civico 1845, Mission Brewery, Parq Restaurant & Nightclub, Salud Tacos, Pappalecco Café, and many other restaurant, brewery, bar, nightclub and entertainment clients.