California lawmakers want to keep outdoor dining, parklets around post-COVID

The change in seasons prompted some Los Gatos businesses to modify the new staple on many Bay Area city streets — outdoor dining parklets.

"Wow, outdoor dining is a great experience. And it’s just a lovely thing for families to be able to do," Sen. Scott Wiener said.

During a virtual news conference Tuesday, Wiener, and Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel announced the passage of companion bills to extend the outdoor dining experience beyond the end of COVID.

"Our neighborhood restaurants are the backbone of communities throughout California," said Gabriel.

Last year, COVID-inspired health rules forced the closure of many restaurants. Other eateries were forced to pivot to take-out service. Outdoor dining became a savior, and the difference between continued service and shutting down.

"For me I was able to bring people back to work, to take care of their families. And that was awesome," said April Spears, owner of Café Envy in San Francisco.

Under the two pieces of legislation, SB314, and AB61,  outdoor dining parklets would be around until 12 months after the COVID health emergency ends, or until 2024. The bills also direct state beverage control to allow alcohol service outside. And the legislations ease some permit restrictions.

"A lot of this is about regulatory relief. And getting rid of some of the regulatory hoops that people had to jump through," Gabriel said.

While the hope is to help, the reaction is mixed.

For a dry cleaner on North Santa Cruz Avenue in Los Gatos, people sitting and eating a stone’s throw from the front door puts them in range of his sign.

"It’s a promotion. People see me. People see my sign. They love it. So any promotion is good for business, right?," said Tito Roque, owner of Gatito Cleaners.

A few doors down, the owner of a retail shop sees a loss of business because outdoor parking spaces are now used for eating.

"My customers like the privilege of parking right in front. (If) there’s a spot, I’m gonna come see you. And they’ve been telling me for months, 'Hey, there’s no parking, I can’t stop,'" said Leslie Robidoux, owner of Battina’s of Los Gatos.

There was broad-based, bipartisan support of the two bills. Each passed its house of the legislature, and not sits on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.