One of the few benefits of living through this pandemic has been the livening of SF's street life into something more European — if at least for a few months last summer and fall while outdoor dining was permitted and parklets and dining set-ups sprang up along curbs and in alleys all over town. A new bill introduced in Sacramento Friday by state Senator Scott Wiener aims to help all of that continue on a more permanent basis — but, sadly, it doesn't include the ongoing legalization of to-go and delivery cocktails, so we won't be turning into New Orleans just yet.
"Bars and restaurants are struggling," Wiener said in a tweet, explaining that the new legislation, called SB314, will allow for permanent parklet dining with alcohol service, and ease the ability of pop-ups and other businesses to share spaces and liquor licenses with other businesses — like bars that allow a cafe to serve food inside them during the daytime. He adds that it will also make the "alcohol permit process faster & fairer, make it less expensive for live music venues to open by creating a new alcohol permit for them, & allows cities to create outdoor open container festival zones."
Speaking to the Chronicle today, Wiener says, "As we start to see the light at the end of the tunnel with this vaccine, we need to help these small businesses recover. Now’s the time to make common-sense changes to our alcohol rules that tangibly support small businesses."
It's estimated that about 30,000 of the 64,000 employees in San Francisco's bars and restaurants remain out of work, according to the Bay Area Hospitality Coalition, and Wiener's bill aims to speed up the ability for these businesses to rehire people and recover from last year's loss of business.
In particular, pop-up restaurants stand to benefit largely if this bill becomes law, given how much brick-and-mortar restaurants depend on liquor sales for their profit margins. And pop-ups are an easier thing to get off the ground in a shaky economy.
The bill also changes a current law that prohibits minors from being served inside a bar space, for instance, if it's operating as a cafe during the daytime.
Reportedly, SB314 has bipartisan support, including from coauthor Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno).
This is just the latest effort by Wiener to revise liquor laws in California, though his biggest, repeated effort to extend last call to 4 a.m. in various cities including San Francisco has so far ended in failure. (This was also something his predecessor in the state Senate, Mark Leno, attempted to do.)
One arcane law California still has the books requires concert halls and other music venues to apply for restaurant liquor licenses — and maintain a kitchen — in order to serve booze. The new bill would do away with that by creating a new liquor license type for these venues.
And local bar owner Ben Bleiman, who serves as president of the SF Entertainment Commission and owns the bars Tonic, Teeth and Soda Popinski’s, tells the Chronicle that he's most excited about the aspect of the bill that would make liquor license approvals faster — he says the license for Tonic took two years because of neighborhood protest, and the new law would cap the protest process at six months. "If we want tax dollars coming back in, liveliness in our city and not vacant commercial corridors, we need to give opportunities to our businesses to survive," Bleiman says.
Photo: Matt Charnock