Two bills introduced in February in the California State House by Senator Scott Wiener have passed with unanimous, bipartisan support in the Senate Governmental Organization Committee — and hopefully this means that soon there will be post-pandemic extensions for restaurants' and bars' outdoor drinking spaces, and an easier path for entertainment venues to serve alcohol.

Senate Bill 314, with was co-authored by a bipartisan group of state senators, makes what Wiener calls "common sense changes" to existing ABC regulations around extending existing liquor licenses outdoors. The bill, if passed by the full Legislature, would allow current licensees who have emergency-relief expanded-premises permits for liquor service to have a one-year grace period in which to keep those outdoor setups — and in which to apply for permanent extensions for those licenses to the outdoors. This means that once local emergency declarations are lifted, post-pandemic, restaurants and bars that are currently offering outdoor seating in alleyways, parklets, and on sidewalks can continue for at least a year after that, if not longer.

"This expanded outdoor seating and service area has allowed restaurants and bars to survive and has been wildly popular with the public, with a more European street life feel," says a release from Wiener's office.

As SFist reported previously, the bill also makes it simpler for bars and restaurants to share their spaces with pop-ups, with each other, and with non-alcohol-serving businesses — which allows a retail area to be shared by multiple entities, lowering costs for all, with continued alcohol service from the licensee.

Current rules also limit liquor licensees to 24 uses of their catering license per year, and SB 314 would expand that to 52 uses per year, allowing restaurants and bars to have more of a revenue stream from catering.

SB 314 has Senators Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) as principal co-authors, and it's also co-authored by Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) and Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Red Bluff), and Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Adam Gray (D-Merced), Cecilia Aguiar Curry (D-Napa), Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage), and Eduardo Garcia (D-Imperial).

A second bill, SB 793, will ease California's open-container rules when it comes to outdoor drinking at festivals or in designated "entertainment zones."

The bill authorizes cities and counties to designate such zones, and gives local governments the ability to open up shared areas or host festivals in which attendees can purchase and consume alcohol from multiple businesses and wander within the zone. Such rules have been grandfathered in at specific street fairs in San Francisco, including Castro Street Fair and Folsom Street Fair, but otherwise ABC regulations have required designed "beer gardens" at festivals and no wandering around with cups outside those areas.

SB 793 also creates a new type of liquor license for entertainment venues. Currently, music venues have to apply in the same manner as bars and restaurants, and the bill will remove some of the time and administrative cost involved for these venues to be able to serve alcohol.

On Twitter, Senator Wiener characterizes the bills as "a shot in the arm to restaurants, bars, [and] live music venues" that have been struggling or completely closed for the last year.

"Let’s lift up our small businesses [and] make our cities more vibrant," he says. He adds that small businesses across the state provide more than a third of the state's jobs, and letting restaurants and bars do more business outdoors is simply good for the state economy. "These businesses are part of the fabric of our communities, and they employ so many of our neighbors," he says.

It remains to be seen if the bills face significant opposition in the Legislature. Both bills passed 15-0 in committee.

Photo: SFMTA