State Senator Scott Wiener has introduced new legislation to create "Entertainment Zones" to help San Francisco's downtown with its economic recovery, activating certain designated areas where people would be free to roam with their booze.
They're called "Refreshment Areas" or "Entertainment Zones," and some cities around the country established them during the pandemic to promote business at local bars and restaurants, giving customers more outdoor space in which to move with their to-go cocktails and beer.
Grand Rapids, Michigan, for instance, created a "Refreshment Area" in July 2020 that has held on to today, in which people can carry open containers of alcohol, as long they're designated containers, up to 16 ounces, and Ohio created a similar designation that allows cities to design their own within certain parameters.
San Francisco had street-closure areas like Valencia Street and Hayes Street that two-block areas with a lot of outdoor seating in the street, but these stopped short of letting people wander freely (technically) with the drinks they ordered. And while there was some talk about loosening up the laws around open containers, New Orleans-style, back at the height of COVID, that never actually happened.
Now, as KRON4 reports, Sen. Wiener has proposed SB 969, which would create the ability for cities to establish temporary, open-container "Entertainment Zones" where brick-and-mortar bars and restaurants could all sell to-go drinks, like when a street festival is going on.
The law would also enable brick-and-mortar businesses to better profit when actual street fairs are happening — the law, as it's currently written, allows booth vendors to sell to-go drinks at fairs, but local businesses can't do the same. (Those rules have been relaxed at Folsom Street Fair and Castro Street Fair in SF, but not generally.)
"Getting people back out in the streets is key to the economic recovery of cities across California," Wiener says in a statement.
"The COVID-19 pandemic devastated foot traffic to downtown businesses," Wiener continues. "Cities in California vary widely in their recovery trajectories, but none has yet reached the levels of foot traffic seen in 2019 in their downtowns. This reduced activity threatens to stymie economic recovery in San Francisco [in particular]."
The law would restrict these "Entertainment Zones" to specific boundaries, and hours of operation, and law enforcement would need to be made aware of when they are open business.
Mayors London Breed of San Francisco and Matt Mahan of San Jose are both behind the bill, saying they think it will help bolster foot traffic in their cities' downtowns.
"This legislation will help revitalize and diversify Downtowns that need support, boost local economies, and support small businesses,” Breed said in a statement. “In San Francisco we are bringing different strategies to create more dynamic neighborhoods, especially in areas that for too long have been focused on simply being a 9-to-5 destination. Entertainment Zones are exactly the kind of creative, flexible tool we need to help local jurisdictions build an even stronger economic recovery."
If and when this legislation passes and gets signed by the governor, it's set to take effect in January 2025 — so we're still 11 months away from random weeknight drinking in the streets. But just in time for Dry January next winter, there may be a new temptation for you downtown!