San Diego, CA: San Diego may loosen rules for food trucks, granny flats, bars, homeless facilities

Food trucks, like the one pictured here, would be allowed to use canopies and put out tables and chairs under a package of proposed San Diego municipal code reforms. ( / Hai Tran)

By David Garrick  |  The San Diego Union-Tribune

San Diego is proposing looser rules for food trucks, granny flats, child care centers, housing projects for the homeless, parking at entertainment venues and establishments that sell alcohol in certain neighborhoods.

The changes are among more than three dozen municipal code revisions the City Council is expected to vote on later this fall. The San Diego Planning Commission unanimously endorsed the changes this week.

The commission declined to endorse one proposed change that would have softened rules that prohibit marijuana businesses within 100 feet of housing and within 1,000 feet of churches, parks, schools and youth-oriented facilities.

Commissioners said community leaders did not have enough opportunity to analyze that proposal, which would shift the distance standard between marijuana businesses and those “sensitive use” facilities to the most direct and legal pedestrian path of travel between property lines.

The package of municipal code changes, formally called phase two of the 12th Land Development Code update, would also crack down on marijuana billboard advertising.

San Diego is the only city in the region that updates its zoning code annually with a large batch of policy changes. Other cities handle such changes one at a time.

City officials say comprehensively updating the zoning code each year allows them to quickly make small modifications that streamline regulations and adjust policies that have had contradictory or unintended consequences.

Critics say adjusting significant regulations in a large batch can shield the changes from the scrutiny they might receive if the council debated them individually.

On food trucks, city officials say the amended regulations would help support the industry by allowing trucks to have standing tables, shade structures and signs of up to six square feet in size on private property.

“It sounds great,” said Michael DiLauro, owner of Urbn Catering Pizza Truck. “You want to be able to elevate anything that you’re doing, and by having a canopy and tables you are improving the service.”

DiLauro said the changes would open up how food trucks could handle events.

“You are elevating it from just handing food out the window of a food truck, to actually making a presentation or doing something buffet style,” he said. “The canopy is a great idea because we live in a hot climate with lots of sun.”

The changes would matter most, he said, during food truck events at microbreweries, corporate business parks and large apartment complexes.

Scott Rothman, owner of the Born in Brooklyn food truck, said the changes would have more impact on some trucks than others.

“I have no room on this truck for tables and chairs,” he said. “It might make a difference for someone who does.”

The new changes come one year after the city made two other changes to food truck regulations.

In 2018, the city agreed to allow the trucks to begin operating without permits in residential, multi-family zones. In addition, the city agreed to allow them on certain commercial properties within a residential zone.

In the latest package of municipal code reforms, the city also would begin allowing granny flats in centralized urban zones in areas where single-family residences are allowed.

On child care centers, the changes would make the city’s approval process looser when the facilities are proposed in areas with apartments and condominiums.

Housing projects for the homeless would be allowed in the city’s coastal overlay zone, which is essentially areas west of Interstate 5.

Entertainment venues would be allowed to meet their parking requirements using off-site parking spots, not just spots located on-site.

On alcohol sales, the proposed change would allow such sales in neighborhood shopping centers. It stipulates that eating and drinking establishments in “commercial neighborhoods” could sell “intoxicating beverages.”

Commercial neighborhoods are defined by the city as “neighborhood shopping centers which provide limited retail, business service and office facilities for the convenience of residents of the neighborhood.”

Other changes would make it easier to open a school near mass transit, make it easier to open retirement homes, require bicycle parking in more areas and soften grading requirements for apartment and condominium projects.

On the marijuana distance rules, the city wants to further loosen them.

When the city first started allowing marijuana businesses in 2014, the distance was based on a straight line from the business to the sensitive use — without regard to topographical features or path of travel.

The city subsequently softened the rule to take into account topographical barriers, such as canyons, and constructed barriers, such as freeways.

Now city officials propose to shift to a standard based on the most direct and legal pedestrian path of travel between property lines.

Industry leaders say they expect the change to make only a small difference in an isolated case or two, at most.

Opponents of marijuana legalization say the proposal is yet another instance of city officials bending rules to suit the local marijuana industry.

On marijuana billboard ads, the proposed municipal code changes would prohibit them within 1,000 feet of schools, public parks, playgrounds, day care centers or youth centers.

State law already prohibits the billboard ads within 1,000 feet of some sensitive uses, but the state list doesn’t include parks.

The billboards have become increasingly common across the city since legal recreational sales of the drug began in January 2018. Industry leaders have said they welcome the billboard rules, especially the effort to differentiate between legal and illegal dispensaries.