San Jose businesses can continue operating safely outdoors through December, city lawmakers decided unanimously Tuesday.
The Al Fresco program has allowed many businesses such as gyms and cafes to move outdoors amid COVID-19 health restrictions.
But rules that permit businesses to run on city-owned parking lots, streets and parks free of charge were set to expire this week.
Councilmember Dev Davis told San José Spotlight she’s optimistic the council will eventually make some version of Al Fresco permanent. Some businesses are also holding out hope.
“Outdoor dining has been hit with businesses and customers and as we’ve heard from businesses it’s been a lifeline to be able to keep people employed which is very important for our entire economy,” Davis said at the meeting.
Even with Santa Clara County this month moving into the less-restrictive orange tier, restaurants can still only seat customers indoors at 50% capacity, making Al Fresco an essential part of recouping lost business.
At a recent city meeting, Rodney Baca, owner of The Shop by Chef Baca, called the program a “huge savior.” Local leaders made Al Fresco a top priority, and Mayor Sam Liccardo’s budget plan advocated for additional funding to keep it going.
“The virus is going to be with us in a pretty substantial way for quite a while,” Liccardo said. “Pushing commerce outside is a good thing in many ways and we have to continue to accommodate in every way we can.”
Jennifer Echeverri, owner of the local restaurant Habana Cuba, said she had a quick and positive experience applying for Al Fresco and hopes the program will one day be permanent.
Her one gripe is that she couldn’t place as many tables outdoors as businesses whose streets got closed off to traffic.
“As an owner, we didn’t get the opportunity to have our street closed,” Echeverri said.
The program allowed her to add a few tables along a curb traditionally used for parking.
Echeverri, who was struggling to stay afloat in the winter and received a DoorDash grant, said she’s seen an influx in business since Santa Clara County moved into the orange tier. The sunshine is providing a glimmer of hope as well, she said. Business has boomed as the weather warms.
“We’re feeling a lot better,” she said. “Customers are coming in. So we’re not all stressed out.”
A total of 131 businesses registered to operate outdoors in San Jose through the program, according to a memo by Economic Development Director Nanci Klein.
A dozen businesses got permits to operate on streets temporarily closed to cars. Al Fresco has shut down three streets, one in south San Jose and two in downtown. Thirty-five businesses received permits for using public sidewalks, a parklet or both. One business is running out of a city-owned parking lot, said Klein.
“The fact that we got it going this summer really helped some of these businesses, not only just survive the pandemic, but have a real chance at kind of maintaining a sense of normalcy, retain employees and give people an opportunity to use our weather — the best weather in the world,” said Nate LeBlanc, business development manager with the San Jose Downtown Association. “We should be out there enjoying it, especially now that it’s springtime.”
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.