California legislation would make permanent outdoor drinking, cocktail take-out pandemic allowances

Two San Francisco Bay Area lawmakers want to lay out the welcome mat to consuming cocktails in the streets or as to-go orders — from now on.

California Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, has introduced a bill that would loosen restrictions on particular laws relative to alcohol consumption in public. Senate Bill 314 is designed to help restaurants and bars erecting parklets and other outdoor dining venues survive the economic crisis of COVID-19.

During this crisis, the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control allowed these entities under an emergency order to serve liquor to patrons in the streets.

The bill would make drinking alcohol in streets, parking lots, alleys and sidewalks as a permanent practice. From there, local governments may decide on zones where carrying open containers of alcohol is allowed.

“It’s up to the cities to make sure the parklets are well designed and in appropriate spaces,” Wiener told the Business Journal.

Also in the proposed law, a new kind of liquor license could be created to allow for entertainment venues to serve alcohol without having to cook food in full kitchens. Concert halls and nightclubs have been hurt immensely by the pandemic’s wrath.

“We wanted to make sure the businesses (serving alcohol) would be able to continue to do it, and let the cities decide what to do with their public spaces,” Wiener said. “Restaurants are struggling, and we want to help.”

The state lawmaker is convinced that, even as counties enter more favorable COVID-19 conditions and move into the less restrictive orange and yellow tiers, there still could be a reluctance to congregating indoors in great numbers.

“People have gotten used to being outside. I think they’re going to be cautious,” he said.

SB 314 will be heard in the California Senate Governmental Organization committee, of which California Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, serves as the chairman.

Dodd introduced a bill of his own last month, which is intended to also help struggling restaurants and bars by permitting them to take orders of cocktails to go if they involve food. That requirement would remain.

SB 389 allows the permanent practice of businesses selling cocktails on the go without food, which is granted under the temporary order permitted through the state ABC.

Dodd points to the devastation of the state’s restaurants as the main reason for a relaxation of current restrictions on the books.

According to the National Restaurant Association, 78% of restaurants owners who started selling takeout alcohol were able to rehire employees laid off during the pandemic, opposed to 62% overall. More than 33 states including California are temporarily allowing the sale of to-go cocktails during the pandemic.

“As a former small business owner myself, I support our local restaurants and am interested in finding thoughtful ways to help them survive the pandemic,” Dodd told the Business Journal.

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