Parklets forever? Proposed California law could make outdoor dining easier post-pandemic

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A bill proposed in the California state legislature Friday would make it easier for bars and restaurants to keep operating outdoors in shared spaces and parklets even after the coronavirus pandemic.

Senate Bill 314, or the Bar and Restaurant Recovery Act, proposes several changes to California's liquor laws that basically make them more flexible.

One of the biggest changes would be the ability to make some parklets permanent, so that restaurants could serve alcohol in places like sidewalks, alleys and parking lots.

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"This expanded outdoor seating and service area - previously prohibited under California's alcohol laws - has allowed restaurants and bars to survive and has been wildly popular with the public, with a more European-feeling street life," said Sen. Scott Wiener, who authored the bill, in a press release.

"Having this space and being able to serve alcohol is essential to our recovery, even when people are inside," said Jen Biesty, Owner and Chef at Shakewell in Oakland.

They got their free permit to build it from Alameda County last year and were banking on keeping it open indefinitely. She hopes the bill passes.
"We are going to have to recover economically and adding an extra number of seats with the patio is going to help us recuperate," added Biesty.

The bill is also aimed at helping new businesses by allowing more creative ways to use commercial space.

For example, the bill would allow minors to enter a bar outside of liquor service hours, which would allow the bar owner to share the space with another business, such as a cafe during the day.

"We want to make sure we are being as flexible as we can to make these businesses succeed," said Wiener.

The bill would also allow two different bars to operate on the same location, it would streamline the process of obtaining new liquor licenses to no more than a 6 months and would also create a new type of liquor license for live music venues.

"Right now they have to get a restaurant license, which means they need a full kitchens even though they are not a restaurant," noted Wiener.

The bill also proposes giving cities and counties the ability to create "open container entertainment zones" to encourage open-air festivals, concerts and events where people can purchase and consume beverages from local businesses.

"Cities could do it on a regular basis or just for special events," said Wiener.

A few of the other proposed changes include:

  • Allowing cities and counties to create "open container entertainment zones," like for street fairs or music festivals, where people could purchase and consume alcohol in the streets

  • Music venues would no longer need to have full kitchens in order to get a liquor license

  • Simplifying the permit process for pop-up restaurants

  • Expediting the liquor license process

  • Making it easier for bars or restaurants to share commercial space with other businesses

The bill has at least some bipartisan support; it was co-authored by Sen. Andreas Borgeas, a Republican from Fresno.
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