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City of Berkeley proposes outdoor dining in public, communal spaces

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BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) — The city of Berkeley has a new proposal on the table to help its restaurants rebound from the pandemic.

The proposal would allow outdoor dining on city streets, parks and plazas.

Many businesses say it’s a good idea in theory but wonder how many restaurants will actually benefit. For instance, places off of San Pablo Avenue. It’s a busy street that’s unlikely to be shut down for extra seating.

City streets, plazas, parking lots and parks could be the new dining destination in Berkeley.

A city proposal, if approved, would allow restaurants to use the public, communal spaces for customer seating.

“Cities have a lot of public space and a lot of people don’t realize up to 25-35% of land mass of a city can be in its streets and sidewalks. We don’t have a lot of surface parking lots in Berkeley but some cities do and we want to make sure we can take some of that street area, parks, what’s called curtilage which is the area around public buildings and use that space to help our businesses in particular our restaurants,” Vice Mayor Sophie Hahn said.

Hahn played a major role in drafting the proposal.

She says the goal is to help restaurants bring in more sales, by expanding their outdoor seating and making it easier to comply with physical distancing once the city’s able to loosen restrictions.

“This would be collective space so perhaps in each commercial district we have or would be able to find part of a street that we could temporarily close or a very large wide median area or an adjacent park, whatever it is we can find,” she said.

While restaurants are grateful, some say there’s a lot of logistics to be worked out.

“It’s not as easy as moving some chairs and tables around. You know it’s were going to have to change some logistics in the way we operate,” Mohan Anandan said. “We’re probably going to have to buy outdoor furniture because you can’t lug tables back and forth and for restaurants that haven’t been generating any revenue  where do you get the money to buy that?”

Anandan is the assistant general manager at Longbranch. 

Based on real estate, he says their restaurant probably won’t benefit from the proposal since their restaurant is on San Pablo Avenue, a major artery in the city.

“I think if it helps restaurants it’s probably going to help a small percentage. It’s kind of niche,” Anandan said. “It’s really going to depend on your real estate and also you know no matter what we’re all going to do reduced business with this plan and how do you… labor’s already a huge concern for a non tip wage state as California so how do we staff this now with literally my staff having to run from the kitchen to the parking lot? how do we do more with even less?”

City council will hear the proposal on June 2. We’re hoping to hear more details about what streets and which areas will be shut down.

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