Commission approves extending outdoor dining at Wild Taco

By SARA HALL

The Planning Commission this week unanimously approved allowing Wild Taco Laguna Beach to continue their use of outdoor dining.

Commissioners voted 5-0 on Wednesday (April 3) in support of a temporary use permit and a coastal development permit to extend outdoor dining for the business, located at 188 South Coast Highway, the southwest corner of Coast Highway and Ocean Avenue. The previously approved TUP expired on January 1, and the commission’s action set the new expiration date for January 1, 2026, consistent with Assembly Bill 1217, extending the AB 61 provisions related to outdoor dining parking requirements, until the same date.

Overall, commissioners supported outdoor dining at the location and the restaurant’s site plan layout for the parklet.

The seating hasn’t changed much and it’s not intrusive, Commissioner Steve Goldman pointed out.

They haven’t switched much around, if anything, since they were initially approved, Chair Ken Sadler agreed. Aside from adding umbrellas, which was a smart idea, he noted.

Wild Taco’s outdoor seating is directly across from Main Beach Park, Sadler pointed out. This is one of the parklets that frequently gets utilized, he said.

“It’s a unique location,” he said.

After extending the permits for the other restaurants with outdoor dining earlier this year, it makes sense to approve this application as well, added Chair Pro Tem Steve Kellenberg.

“It’s hard not to support it,” Kellenberg said. “Plus, I think it does add to the street character.”

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Site Plan courtesy of City of Laguna Beach

The site plan for the outdoor dining parklet at Wild Taco, as approved by the Planning Commission this week

The outdoor dining program was approved in May 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions on indoor dining. The action authorized outdoor dining and outdoor display of merchandise on the adjacent storefront sidewalk through the approval of a temporary use permit.

The program was first extended in August 2020 and again in January 2021. After Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill in October 2021 that allowed jurisdictions with outdoor dining to reduce the number of required parking spaces for existing business uses, the program was extended again in November 2021.

In May 2023, council approved a market rate fee schedule for outdoor dining programs/parklets on public property in Downtown. The rate was set at $5 per square foot, per month, plus a $4,500 maintenance fee.

On October 8, Newsom signed AB 1217, extending the previous state law and allowed cities to waive parking requirements for outdoor dining until Jan. 1, 2026. A majority of council voted on November 7 to continue the program for outdoor dining and parklets until the same date.

The Planning Commission, at their January 17 meeting, approved TUPs and CDPs for 10 businesses, which extended outdoor dining as an interim measure while staff further evaluates the outdoor dining and parklet program, explained Senior Administrative Analyst Louie Lacasella. Commissioners added a condition of approval that the permits return to the PC in three months with a report on the project’s consistency with the originally approved TUP, specifically focused on the number and layout of chairs and tables. The commission approved permits for another four businesses on February 7 with the same condition.

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“They were a little late in their submission, that’s why we’re taking it separately than the batches that we took earlier this year,” Lacasella explained.

While the TUPs approved for other outdoor dining parklets earlier this year will be coming back to the commission, staff didn’t recommend the Wild Taco permit return in three months, because they submitted a site plan and city staff conducted two site visits to ensure that the equipment in place matches the site plan.

Based on the feedback received from commissioners at prior meetings, city staff asked the applicant to include a site plan identifying every table, chair, umbrella, landscape planter and the fencing. Following commission approval of the permits, the site plan will be on file for the business and they will be required to be in compliance with it at all times, Lacasella said.

Although all of the previously approved permits will return to the commission closer to summertime, a meeting date has not yet been set. They are working with the city attorney’s office on some of the logistical issues, Lacasella confirmed.

Wild Taco’s site plan shows four tables, each with four chairs (including one compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act), two landscape planters and fencing around the space. The parklet takes up roughly two public parking spaces, he said.

Overall, the program has been a success, Lacasella noted.

“It’s been enjoyed by residents and visitors and it’s helped businesses recover from the financial impacts of COVID,” he said.

Joseph Garcia, who runs operations for the Bear Flag Fish Company, which owns Wild Taco, said the outdoor dining program helps bring in additional traffic for the local businesses and restaurants, and it creates a positive experience for the community.

“The feedback that I’ve received from our guests and the local residents has been extremely positive,” Garcia said. “It really improves the overall experience of people who may be visiting Laguna Beach from other areas of the county or the state.

Although both locals and visitors eat outside at the Wild Taco, he noted.

The program definitely helped boost the restaurant when it was impacted by COVID, Garcia commented.

“We really needed that,” he said.

About 20% of the actual seats/guests are outdoors, he noted.

The “crowd brings crowd” concept rings true for the outdoor dining concept, he said, when people see others enjoying themselves, they want to follow.

“People gravitate to the outdoors. They can sit there, they can bask in sun, they can see the ocean. I think it adds an element of energy and activity with people driving by, they can see people dining outside at the restaurants,” Garcia said.

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Sara Hall covers City Hall and is a regular contributor to Stu News Laguna.


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