Coronavirus: Cities across Bay Area push for outdoor dining, post-pandemic

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Friday, May 15, 2020
Coronavirus: Cities across Bay Area push for outdoor dining, post-pandemic
Local restaurants and retailers are expected to look much different, post-pandemic - This possibly includes shutting down city streets to give businesses space to operate outside.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Local restaurants and retailers are expected to look much different, post-pandemic.

Several Bay Area cities are already working on plans to bring outdoor dining to life, the moment stay-at-home orders are lifted.

RELATED: Reopening California: Berkeley proposes plan to turn outdoor spaces into restaurant dining areas

In Mountain View, the move could keep Castro Street clear of vehicle traffic.

"It's definitely more than just saying, 'We're going to close the street down,'" Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga told ABC7 News. "There's issues with- we have a transit center. So, there are buses that come through. So, we're working with, for instance, VTA on rerouting some of those buses."

Mayor Abe-Koga said the city is actively exploring outdoor options, expecting City Council will hear those plans sometime in June.

"The idea is to do a pilot program in the summer, when the weather is good. And close down our main street, which is Castro Street- or more than half of it," she explained. "Open it up for restaurants to be able to put their tables out onto the streets.

Abe-Koga said city staff is currently connecting with businesses, really considering the input of owners.

"This has been an idea that has floated in our community for a while. I think there was some hesitancy in the past, but this pandemic has really- if you want to say there's been a benefit of the pandemic- is that is that it's making us rethink things and figure out how to do things differently," she added.

"As challenging as it's been," she said about the pandemic, "I think it's also provided an opportunity for innovation."

RELATED: 'San Jose Al Fresco' could be city's answer for post-pandemic business

In Menlo Park, restaurant owners reached out to city leaders, looking for a lifeline.

"We've all sacrificed a great amount, and our business districts are feeling it. Our restaurateurs are feeling it," Councilman Ray Mueller told ABC7 News. "And so, they reached out and they said, 'Look, we're really excited about reopening, but we need some help because our rents are based on a specific amount of capacity, and for us reopen safely, we need extra capacity.'"

The City's plans would include closing Santa Cruz Avenue through Downtown.

Looking away from the downtown district, where restaurant owners have their stand-alone locations, the city is considering providing them with a process in which they can move their tables out into the parking lots.

Councilmember Mueller said he and another councilman began working on the idea on April 7th. Since then, he said they've collected community feedback, and are taking on guidance from experts.

The plan was introduced to City Council on Tuesday, and is scheduled to be heard again on May 26.

"There's something about this process, which means when we all come together in a safe way, we're also going to see each other, and we're going to be a community again," Mueller added. "At a safe, social distance."

However, there is a level of concern.

Post-COVID, support for businesses and the safety of all Bay Area residents is paramount.

RELATED: San Mateo deputy mayor considers closing streets for outdoor dining

"We're going to want to see some more permanent bollards and so forth- or safety devices, planter boxes, what have you, for public safety," Menlo Park Fire Protection District Chief Harold Schapelhouman said. "So there's just a lot of different things to think about, but then we also have the additional pandemic circulation, spacing, all those different things."

He added, while the fire district overwhelmingly supports Menlo Park's plans, its main concern is public safety.

"Over the years, we've done things that maybe we traditionally would not do, but in this particular case, it makes a lot of sense," Chief Schapelhouman told ABC7 News. "I hope that's going to be enough to help the merchants out. I hope people come, I hope people feel comfortable with the fact that once we develop these plans, they feel safe doing that. And that we save part of the business district."

He added, "We're supportive. We obviously think about public safety, that's what we do, but we see ways in which we can- everybody can be reasonable, responsible and make this happen."

RELATED: Partitions, paper menus and more as Bay Area restaurant prepares for post-COVID-19 business

In Berkeley, Mayor Jesse Arreguin and Vice Mayor Sophie Hahn developed a plan in partnership. It's a plan they hope to launch its plan by summer.

"Our food service sector is also a really critical part of our tax base, and so this proposal- which is going to city council on June 2nd- would ask for city staff to develop a plan to close certain city streets, as well as plazas, looking at our parks as locations to have open air dining," Mayor Arreguin explained.

He said it's not a new idea, and that Berkeley has experience in closing streets in the past for specific events.

"It is in line with what I think a lot of cities are doing already, in closing streets to let people walk and bike and exercise and enjoy nature," Arreguin said. "We want to get this done as soon as possible, but in line with when we can reopen our restaurants.

He said if the program is a success, it could be something the city looks at long-term.

He said Berkeley is working with a number of stakeholders in solidifying the plan.

"It's really going to come down to how many streets, which streets, mindful of the accessibility issues," he said. "And just so we're doing this in a way that's safe for people."

RELATED: Shelter-in-place has start-up restaurants looking for help in San Francisco's La Cocina

Safe, and consistent with the governor's guidance.

"The longer it takes for our restaurants to reopen, the more likely some of them will never open again," Arreguin added. "And that would be a real loss to our community."

He said COVID-19 has, without a doubt, changed the way city leaders look at issues. "Looking at how we use streets. Looking at how we address housing needs. Looking at how we can address economic recovery," he said. "We cannot go back to the way that we did things before. We're going to have to look at things differently. But that also presents an opportunity for us to try new things- things that may actually, in the long run, be better for our communities."

Arreguin understands there may be some hesitancy upon reopening.

"We know that even after the shelter-in-place order is lifted, that COVID-19 still is a real threat to our communities," he said. "So, we must be vigilant and make sure that we are reopening our economy safely- not just for the employees, but also for our residents."

"Every single table and every single chair, matters," he added. "I think, if they can accommodate more customers, do so safely, and also just get people out of their homes and into our streets and just to enjoy their city... that's the goal."

Berkeley's plan is similar to the South Bay's 'San Jose Al Fresco' focus.

San Jose's plan was passed unanimously at the Rules and Open Government Committee meeting Wednesday, and will be heard at Tuesday's council meeting, on May 19.

All city leaders ABC7 News spoke with agreed the early planning across Bay Area cities is reflective of the region's resilience.

"I think it's very indicative of the Bay Area," Mountain View Mayor Abe-Koga said. "When we talk about innovation and meeting the challenges that we're faced with, with new ideas and willing to take risks and try new things, to hopefully improve the situation and the quality of life for folks here."

Menlo Park city councilman Mueller added, "The Bay Area, when confronted with a problem, we adapt, we respond and then we persevere. We dive in and we solve that problem."

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