San Jose has started paving the way for restaurants to safely reopen with expanded outdoor dining once the shelter-in-place order eases up.
Mayor Sam Liccardo and Councilwoman Dev Davis teamed up Friday to announce their “Al Fresco San Jose” initiative, which would allow restaurants and other local businesses to utilize sidewalks, paseos, parking and other outdoor space to accommodate patrons.
“San Jose Al Fresco simply put is a way to utilize this beautiful sunshine that we experience nearly every day here in San Jose,” Liccardo said at a virtual news conference. “[We need] to be able to help many of our struggling small businesses get back open to help more of our residents get a paycheck to help them put food on their table.”
Restaurants across the state have experienced deep financial cuts as owners temporarily close up shop or operate solely through take-out orders. San Jose Downtown Association Executive Director Scott Knies said that in the city’s core, only 6 percent of the 1,628 businesses are open and another 9 percent are only partially open.
“An effort like Al Fresco San Jose is a step in the right direction because we know that it’s going to be different,” he said. “We know that we’re going to have spacing requirements and we’re going to have less tables inside. So if we have less tables inside and we want these businesses to survive, we’re going to have to go outside.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom is expected to announce guidelines Tuesday to help restaurants re-open safely. The California Restaurant Association has proposed requirements such as temperature checks for employees, hand washing schedules and face masks.
While Santa Clara County public health officials haven’t said when dine-in restaurants will be allowed to operate again, Liccardo says he want to make sure the city has “the rules in place” when it’s time to resume business as usual.
To soften the financial blow on small businesses, city officials are exploring alternative funding sources to help offset the cost of applications. Quick-build infrastructure, such as 3-D barriers and potted plants, are also being considered to help restaurants stay in compliance with rules set out by Alcohol Beverage Control.
San Jose plans to collaborate with local organizations, like the urban planning nonprofit SPUR, to help identify parking lots, alleys, plazas and streets that could be used.
“San Jose Al Fresco will remove the need for those of us who’ve been cooped up in our homes for nearly 2 months to rush out to crowded parks and beaches on weekends to get outside,” SPUR San Jose Director Teresa Alvarado said. “This program will also help to equalize the opportunity to be safely outside for disadvantaged communities that lack parks or other nearby open space.”
Liccardo and Davis both expressed their hope that the initiative would help pave the way for permanent uses of the outdoor space.
“We’ve already started to do that in little park-lets, taking over some parking spaces in different areas of the city,” she said. “The way that I see that this is a good way to test it out in a lot of other areas and see where it works and where it can be permanent. We do have to take advantage of our 300 days of sunshine.”
“I think what this crisis affords us is the opportunity to move faster,” Liccardo added. “Recognize that there is a really urgent need to help folks get back to work and perhaps that can spur more rapid movement in this direction.”
The proposal will be heard at 2pm Wednesday during the City Council’s next Rules and Open Government Committee session.