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

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- 'San Jose Al Fresco' could be the answer to getting business back on track, post-pandemic in San Jose.

City leaders proposed an ordinance which would allow restaurants, gyms, and other retailers to do business outdoors.

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They'd use private parking lots, plazas, streets, sidewalks and other outdoor areas, if allowed.

"It's somewhat uncharted territory, but I think we all have to begin putting a creative approach together in the post-pandemic world," San Jose Downtown Association Executive Director, Scott Knies told ABC7 News.

He said, of the more than 1,600 businesses in the downtown core, only 6-percent are open and essential, 9-percent are partially opened for to-go and delivery service, and about 84-percent are closed because of COVID-19.

"They're either non-essential or the numbers just didn't make sense," Knies explained.

West of downtown, Poor House Bistro (PHB) is open and on-board with the City's new proposal.

The bistro is already considering how business might change, and any anticipated challenges.

"We have a parking lot in the back that would also give us an opportunity to seat more people," PHB President, Jay Meduri said. "Just depending on the restrictions that the governor puts out."

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On the state-level, Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to announce guidelines for sit down restaurants on Tuesday, May 11.

"Might as well make use of it," Meduri said about parking lot space. "It seems that's a little safer of an environment than being inside. We kind of planned that, thinking that was the way it was going to go down- that it would probably be more outdoor seating than indoor seating. So, we've been doing all our business basically outside here on our patio."

However, the push to move business outside will take some time.

The city will begin discussing the ordinance, Wednesday. The memo will be voted on at the Rules and Open Government Committee meeting on May 13, before going to a full vote of the City Council.

"What it really does is give the city staff a heads up. Because I'm sure the City Attorney, the Fire Department, the Police Department, Public Works Department - oh my goodness - they're all going to want to weigh in," Knies told ABC7 News. "And how do we sift through kind of the pre-pandemic thinking of all these rules? And, 'Hey we're going to need a 20-page application and a permit fee, and cost recovery.' Hey, we've got to throw that stuff out the window and be thinking differently. That's what I really think, more than anything, this proposal today is about."

Knies said the next steps involve getting civic partners, public partners, non-profit partners and private businesses together on the same page to sort out the details.

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He anticipates outdoor hours would be limited, and street closures would be specific.

"There's certain hours I could see streets being utilized. I would think it's a handful of streets that make sense for this. You would want to have a concentration of businesses on them," he explained.

"We just want to be ready. We want to have the rules in place, very clearly. We want to ensure there's a clear pathway for small businesses. We know they don't have a lot of money to be spending on fees," Mayor Sam Liccardo said, during a Friday afternoon tele-conference on the topic. "They don't have time to be spending with lobbyists and consultants. They just want to know what are the clear rules and how can they do it. So, we need to ensure we're working hard to make it as easy as possible when the light turns green."

"We're ready to rock and roll," Meduri said about the City's plans. "We're happy today. It's a good day."

Liccardo said the most obvious barrier is the need for health orders that will allow this outdoor activity. This would require orders at both the State and the County level.

During Friday's virtual press conference, the Mayor and Councilmember Dev Davis were joined by business community leaders, Teresa Alvarado with SPUR, Scott Knies- as mentioned above, Matthew Mahood with Silicon Valley Organization, and Katie Hansen with the California Restaurant Association.

To read the full memo, click here.

To watch the press conference, click here.

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