Thirsty for craft beer in East County

When life hands you Lemon Grove, make beer

"Lemon Grove is a throwback to the 1930s, and we're trying to give it new life," says city manager Lydia Romero.
  • "Lemon Grove is a throwback to the 1930s, and we're trying to give it new life," says city manager Lydia Romero.

Out of 18 incorporated cities in San Diego county, only two do not have a craft brewery or tasting room in the works. One of them is trying to change that.

The city of Lemon Grove wants craft beer, and the city of about 26,000 has been making moves designed to attract small businesses to its downtown village area.

"Lemon Grove is a throwback to the 1930s, and we're trying to give it new life," says city manager Lydia Romero. "Mixing some of the kitschy uniqueness of Lemon Grove with some urban flavor."

As high-priced real estate and overcrowding has pushed home buyers east the past few years, Lemon Grove's population has grown and experienced a demographic shift toward younger residents. In the meantime, it's also seen a change of leadership. Romero's been city manager for a year, and a new mayor was elected in November. Three of its five city council seats have changed hands since 2014.

"There is a consensus," Romero says of the new government. "They want economic devolvement that meets the needs of residents, and they've been hearing the residents want these nice brewpubs…as well as a variety of restaurants to come in that's not fast food."

Lemon Grove's director of development services, David DeVries, points out that roughly 400 new homes have been built in Lemon Grove over the past six years, including an 84-apartment development about to be completed at city center, beside one of its two trolley stops. "People are moving to Lemon Grove because they see the possibilities that are here," he says, citing affordability, large lot sizes, walkability, and a convenient location ten minutes by freeway or trolley to downtown San Diego.

As far as breweries and brewpubs are concerned, both Romero and DeVries outline another set of benefits for small businesses wishing to move into the city. "We want to make the process as smooth and easy as possible," she says, adding, "Our processing times are fast and our processing fees are the lowest in the county."

Lemon Grove eliminated its planning committee two years ago, removing a time-consuming step in its permitting process. With businesses only having to address the city council to acquire a conditional use permit, DeVries estimates a brewery coming to town could be ready to start the building process in as few as three months.

It would also encounter low prices, under a dollar per square foot in some cases, and two dollars per foot in prime, corner locations. "The advantage to a brewery or retailer coming into the city now," he says, "is they get in while the prices are low."

With only three craft breweries within a five mile radius, and primarily residential neighborhoods to the east and south, Lemon Grove hopes an influx of craft-oriented businesses will seed economic growth in its commercial zones, as it has in Vista. And not just breweries. "We'd love to see a taphouse. We'd love to see craft brewers here, craft coffee houses," says Romero. "Or spirits," she adds. "There's a small industry in the county, and I'd love to tap into that."

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Lydia Romero says "Lemon Grove is a throwback to the 1930s..." She's right about that. Their streets are more fit for horses than for cars.

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