San Jose businesses can soon operate in parks, plazas, parking lots

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- "San Jose Al Fresco" has been the South Bay's attempt at keeping businesses alive.

Last month, the city recently shut down traffic along San Pedro Street, allowing restaurants to expand outdoor seating. Now, it's waiving fees and expediting the permit process for businesses to use other outdoor spaces during the pandemic.

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The decision was approved this week.

"We've been working very hard to make this happen, because as you know, the city is pretty much stuck in the way it decides who uses its public property," Elisabeth Handler told ABC7 News. "And so, to go in and change those regulations - even on a temporary basis - is kind of a heavy lift."

Handler is the Public Information Officer for the city's Office of Economic Development.

She explained, depending on the type of business, public parks, plazas and city-owned public parking lots will soon see customers.

"These are all now opening up for a variety of kinds of businesses. Most will be for dining and food service. Most are also available for general retail," Handler explained. "Some are possible for personal care services like hair care and nail salons and so on. And some are able to be open for instruction gyms, fitness classes and that kind of thing."

Businesses must also meet certain criteria for their desired location. For instance, your hair appointment won't happen in the middle of a public park.

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"I don't know about you, but my stylist uses a lot of styling tools," Councilmember Dev Davis joked. "And there's not really available in the parks."

Davis and the mayor first introduced the Al Fresco idea back in May.

She said the new areas of outdoor expansion could be activated as early as next week.

As listed on the city's Al Fresco website, a few areas include Fountain Alley, Hammer Theatre Center, Parque de los Pobladores, and the lot on Minnesota Avenue, just west of Lincoln Avenue. These are just a few locations that will soon host surrounding businesses.

"It's very similar to what is already kind of happening," Davis explained. "I know that there are businesses that have already reached out and asked for space and parks. So, it's rolling along and I'm hoping it will be a very, very quick process."

For the businesses sure to benefit from the new expansion, she explained, "They can't be inside. They cannot open up in the space that they have. They need to be outside, and we know that that's the safest thing."

"To get people spread out, we need a lot of space," she continued.

Along The Alameda, Scott Howell with Red Dot Fitness said the Billy DeFrank LGBTQ Community Center has offered its lot for gym operations.

"This started with the community member from outside that had nothing to do with fitness, coming to us and essentially inviting and asking us if we wanted to move into the space next door to them," he explained.

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"We've been shut down since March 17. We have not been able to operate our business physically in our location. For now, five months," Howell told ABC7 News. "It's been devastating. Financially, it's been very, very tough. It's been tough on our employees, tough on our community, and very, very tough on our business."
He's already started the process of contacting the city about his interest. The opportunity to expand outdoors is really giving Howell hope.

"It has been a tremendous challenge - and it seems every week, provides and presents a new one," Howell shared. "So, this challenge of having to move into an outdoor space and get it going is a welcomed one. We're excited to be in front of people again. So, it's feeling pretty good right now."

Now, he's waiting on the go-ahead from the city.

"Anything worth doing is worth doing right," Howell said. "And we're going to take our time and make sure that we're doing things correctly to keep people safe. And at the same time, provide an awesome environment and an awesome opportunity for the community to get back to their fitness in a sort of organized fashion."

He continued, "We're not rushing. We're anxious, but we're not rushing. Hopefully we get this thing going by beginning in the middle of next week. I think that's realistic."

Without a dedicated parking lot at Red Dot, Howell said the new expansion is needed to keep his business alive.

To learn more about San Jose Al Fresco, or to get the process started for your own business, visit this page.

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