Once dining in restaurants is again permitted in the city of San Francisco, restaurants will be able to set up outdoor seating on sidewalks, in alleys, and in street-parking spaces under a new, expedited permit program announced by Mayor London Breed on Tuesday.
It's called the Shared Spaces Program, and it's launching immediately to allow restaurants to get ahead of the game in moving their curbside pickup operations to the actual curb, before they can actually start letting people sit down to eat. The program will allow neighborhood businesses — including bars and retail stores — to apply for no-cost permits to temporarily "share a portion of the public right-of-way," and that includes sidewalks, parking spaces, and "full or partial streets."
"We know businesses in San Francisco have been hit hard, and since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve been finding ways to support local retailers, restaurants, and other small businesses," says Mayor Breed in a statement. "Thanks to the work of our Economic Recovery Task Force, this new program is a creative solution that will give our businesses more space to operate safely, and shift some of our street and sidewalk space to protect the economic and physical health of our entire community."
And Breed's announcement specifically refers to beverage sales, which potentially can resume immediately from area bars — though technically, at the moment, only pre-made and bottled cocktails are allowed to be sold and only from bars that serve food, and under state guidelines issued earlier this month, only establishments serving food or contracting with a third party to serve food will be permitted to sell booze.
The move comes in response to a request three weeks ago from the Golden Gate Restaurant Association (GGRA), and a similar move in the city of Berkeley — which itself was inspired by cafes and restaurants in Vilnius, Lithuania, which began doing this in recent weeks. Dining in restaurants still is not permitted in Berkeley or San Francisco, though it will be as part of a second half of Phase 2, which six Bay Area counties are expected to enter in tandem — and three North Bay counties, Sonoma, Napa, and Solano, already have as of last week, with Sonoma only permitting outdoor dining.
"We want to thank Mayor Breed and the City for making this happen," says GGRA Executive Director Laurie Thomas in a statement. "With social distancing and the reduced number of customers who will be able to dine in, the ability to expand seating to outside will help our eating and drinking establishments be able to survive financially. We are so excited to help bring life back to our city and especially to our neighborhoods."
Hopefully, this all points to an exception being made for San Francisco bars from the state guidelines that could allow our city — at least temporarily — to have walk-around to-go drinks just like New Orleans. It's something that Entertainment Commission President and SF bar owner Ben Bleiman is asking for. Bleiman told Mission Local last week that city bars "are on life support right now," and "everything should be on the table" in terms of relaxing impediments to getting bars back on their feet — including allowing the sale of cocktail kits and non-bottled drinks, without food.
SF Supervisor Catherine Stefani echoed this in a quote in today's press release from the mayor, saying, "Our small business community was squeezed by layers of red tape even before the pandemic. Now more than ever, we need creative ideas that will support our neighborhood businesses and allow them to reopen as safely as possible."
Thomas has said that SF restaurants expect to be reopening for dine-in (or dine-outdoor) services sometime in June.
Photo: Balam Q./Yelp