“On the one hand, we do have an area that is mixed use,” said commission chairman Eric Naslund. “This particular property is in a commercial zone and it does have permits for an entertainment venue. I think anytime you have situations where people are trying to live in a residential setting in the evening, there’s going to be a natural conflict there.”
Public testimony on the topic suggested that conflict already exists, because of what residents deem as excessive noise emanating from within and around the beach bar across the street from their condos.
In a press conference this month, Pacific Beach Planning Group member Scott Chipman called attention to what he called the high alcohol-related crime rate and proliferation of alcohol permits in the vicinity. He said the expansion of the sidewalk café would increase the alcohol-related problems, pedestrian traffic congestion and noise in the area.
“Pacific Beach, on a six-year average, has been the most violent community in the region. It’s time to send a message that we’re done with the violence. We’re done with the crime, the DUIs,” Chipman said. “The encroachment onto the sidewalk is bad for the neighborhood. It’s bad for our walkability and it’s bad for handicapped access. This is an area that is already seriously congested and has more alcohol problems than most of the city.”
710 Beach Club owner Scott Slaga, however, as-sured the Planning Commission that his intent for the sidewalk café would be for food service only — not alcohol — and the café would close at 10 p.m. along with the closure of the roll-up garage doors on the front façade.
“My roll-up doors close at 10,” Slaga said. “My sidewalk café would have to close at 10. Those doors and that café will be commensurate with each other. [They would] open at the same time, and when live music occurs, the sidewalk café shuts down.”
Some commissioners emphasized the distinction between land use and alcohol licensing, urging their fellow colleagues not to step into the jurisdiction of the state Alcohol Beverage Control.
“A lot of testimony took place about the distribution of alcohol permitting and how many are already there. There’s a fine line between what we do and what ABC does, and I don’t want to get over into ABC’s business,” said commissioner Mi-chael Smiley, who voted against the motion favoring the project’s appeal. “There was a preponderance of testimony talking about noise, urination, climbing over the fences — all sorts of bad things — and the sidewalk café isn’t there yet. They’re talking about existing conditions.”
Some commissioners argued that — from a land-use perspective — the café would bottleneck already-dense pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk.
“It’s not the 12 people sitting outside on the sidewalk café,” said commissioner Tim Golba. “It’s what is going to potentially happen after hours. I’m not looking at it as the number; I’m looking at it more in the global sense of its setting. There are just packs of people walking there. This is the main thoroughfare to the beach. I’m afraid once that sidewalk café gets in there, it’s going to throttle the ability to move quickly and not congregate.”
Golba said passersby might gather around the beach bar to listen to the borrowed music from inside, creating more nuisance noise, blocking pedestrian access and thereby affecting residents’ quality of life and visitors’ safety.
Although the commissioners claimed to be in full support of sidewalk cafés in general, they voted in favor of the appeal because of the unique conditions in this particular mixed-use area where residents and commercial businesses coexist.
“Our weather is remarkable, so we should be encouraging these types of sidewalk cafés and these types of activities,” said commissioner Susan Peerson. “It’s clear that when you live in a neighborhood in a beach community and there are these activities, a part of our role is to make it a safe environment and welcoming environment for people. I’m concerned that that cannot happen in this situation with the proposal of the sidewalk café.”