Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Vice Mayor Sophie Hahn introduced legislation Thursday to pave the way for the reopening of city restaurants by implementing open-air dining.
If passed, the proposal would allow the city manager to identify locations throughout Berkeley that would be feasible for open-air dining. The locations that will be investigated include wide sidewalks, street medians, building curtilages, surface lots, public parking areas and parks, according to Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Arreguín. The proposal was inspired by similar international initiatives to convert open spaces to open-air cafes and is set to be voted on during the June 2 City Council meeting.
“This innovative approach strikes the right balance in supporting businesses and workers while maintaining social distancing measures to curb the spread of the virus,” Arreguín said in a press release. “This proposal will enable us to reopen an important part of our economy while minimizing the risk of new infections.”
According to Elgstrand, the proposal would involve restaurants, cafes and food shops. The Berkeley Chamber, the Downtown Berkeley Association and local business improvement districts would be consulted to help develop sanitation, upkeep and storage protocols for the businesses involved.
Under the protocol, businesses would also be allowed to apply for the usage of streets, surface lots, public parking spaces, public recreation spaces and adjacent parcels as temporary outdoor dining arrangements, according to Elgstrand. The outdoor dining arrangements allow for both compliance with physical separation and the opening of businesses.
“We know that many restaurants would have very limited capacity structuring their indoor seating in a safe way, so the hope is that by providing additional outside space, this would help businesses being able to serve more customers,” Elgstrand said in an email.
Since the beginning of the city’s shelter in place, which prohibited in-person dining, many Berkeley restaurants have been at risk of permanent closure. These closures would have major impacts on the city’s economy and employment rate. According to the press release, as of 2018, food products make up 34.5% of the city’s sales tax revenue.
The city of Berkeley has been working with local businesses during the shelter in place. The city created the Berkeley Relief Fund, which provided $335,000 to 120 restaurants in April. Restaurants and nonprofits have also partnered to deliver food to older adults and the homeless community. Additionally, many restaurants continue to offer takeout and delivery services.
Elgstrand added that the proposal would not negatively affect people traveling throughout Berkeley.
“As with any festival or event (such as the farmers market) that requires road closures, traffic would simply be detoured, so we would not expect any negative impacts on commuters with any of these possible road closures,” Elgstrand said in the email.