As small restaurants across California struggle to survive, Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Woodland Hills) announced progress on legislation that will help facilitate more outdoor dining, and expanded take-out and delivery options, in a manner consistent with public health guidance. Introduced jointly with Senate Majority Leader Robert M. Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), Assembly Bill (AB) 61 would empower local jurisdictions and the Department of Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) to provide regulatory flexibility to support struggling restaurants across the Golden State.
“The restaurant industry has been hit hard by the pandemic. With indoor dining rooms still closed in most places, outdoor dining has become an important lifeline for restaurants,” stated Madelyn Alfano, president of the California Restaurant Association and owner of Maria’s Italian Kitchen, a neighborhood Italian restaurant with several locations in the San Fernando Valley. “AB 61 will help to address issues restaurants face as we have created outdoor spaces to continue to serve our customers. Nothing is more important to me than the safety of our customers and the ability to continue to provide delicious Italian meals for my community.”
Despite recent progress with vaccines, outdoor dining is likely to be critical for many restaurants for the foreseeable future. AB 61 would:
- Temporarily waive requirements for fully enclosed kitchen and service areas, thereby allowing for increased airflow as well as opportunities for new take-out windows.
- Temporarily waive certain requirements so that restaurants can take advantage of their own parking spaces for increased outdoor dining capacity.
- Enable “business activity districts” to lower speed limits in certain areas so that outdoor dining is safe and feasible.
- Temporarily extend existing ABC regulatory relief, allowing for expanded outdoor dining and outdoor alcohol-to-go sales.
- Provide ABC with flexibility and discretion to allow for temporary changes to existing alcohol licenses.
- Permit ABC to develop a licensing process to regulate the delivery of alcohol by third-party deliverers to ensure that alcohol cannot be obtained by minors.
- Temporarily allow coffee bars to be set up and operate outdoors.
COVID-19 has devastated small businesses in California, with the restaurant industry facing waves of temporary and permanent closures. Since April 2020, California restaurants estimate they have lost $6.2 billion in sales. Also, 79% of owners in California reported that it is unlikely that their restaurants will be profitable in the next six months, and over a million employees have been furloughed or laid off. Notably, the restaurant industry employs one of the most diverse workforces in the state, and six out of 10 restaurants in California are owned by people of color.
AB 61 is expected to be heard in the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee in the coming weeks.