Senator Wiener Introduces the Bar and Restaurant Recovery Act to Help Small Businesses Recover from Pandemic

SB 314 creates more flexibility for California’s battered bars, restaurants, and music venues and makes permanent key pandemic emergency regulation
February 5, 2021

SACRAMENTO - Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) introduced Senate Bill 314, the Bar and Restaurant Recovery Act. SB 314 will help California’s restaurants, bars, and music venues recover economically from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic by creating more flexibility in how they can serve alcohol, including where they can serve and how they can share spaces with other businesses (for example, making permanent the popular and successful outdoor dining and parklet regulations currently in place because of the pandemic). Combined with other critical measures, SB 314 will help the hospitality industry bounce back from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, enacting common sense reforms, restructuring outdated laws, and allowing businesses more opportunities to succeed.

The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated small businesses — particularly in the hospitality industry. Bars and restaurants have either been closed or operating at reduced capacity. Music venues have been closed entirely. Many hospitality businesses have permanently shut down since March, having not operated at full capacity for so long. We have a responsibility to make it easier for small businesses to bounce back and stay open, and to ease the burden of unnecessarily difficult and antiquated regulations that keep these small businesses from thriving.

SB 314 will also help workers in the service industry by increasing service jobs. Small businesses employ 35.8% of California’s workforce, and thousands of service workers have been laid off from their jobs since March 2020. COVID-19 has eliminated a stable source of income for many service workers. Along with the lack of a stable income, laid-off service workers may now face food insecurity, an increased risk of eviction and homelessness, increased emotional distress and anxiety (coupled with lack of healthcare), and fewer resources to pay for childcare. The impacted communities are primarily low- and middle-income workers of color, who faced many of these issues before the pandemic struck and are now in even more challenging situations.

SB 314 makes the following common sense changes to the alcohol rules governing restaurants, bars, and music venues:

●     Makes permanent the temporary pandemic regulation allowing significantly expanded outdoor restaurant/bar seating with alcohol service, for example, on streets, parking lots, alleys, or sidewalks. This expanded outdoor seating and service area — previously prohibited under California’s alcohol laws — has allowed restaurants and bars to survive and has been wildly popular with the public, with a more European-feeling street life.

●     Makes it dramatically easier for bars and restaurants to share commercial space with other bars and restaurants or with non-alcohol-serving businesses, thus allowing businesses to reduce their rent costs, in the following ways:

           ○     Allow minors to be present outside of liquor service hours, when alcohol is not being served. For example, a bar may share space with a daytime business, such as a cafe, movie theater, or other non-alcohol business. Currently, a minor is prohibited from being in the space even if no alcohol is being served at the time. This change will make it much easier for bars to share space with other businesses and thus relieve rent pressure.

           ○     Allow two different restaurants or bars to operate at the same location with different alcohol licenses, specifying each of their businesses’ operating hours on the license. Current law prohibits this kind of space sharing with different alcohol licenses.

           ○     Enable a building that has two or more businesses within it to utilize a shared alcohol consumption space, either indoors or outdoors. This will allow restaurants and bars to save on administrative costs by permitting the use of a shared location within a single licensed building.

●     Streamlines and makes more flexible California’s alcohol license process by:

           ○     Expediting issuance of alcohol licenses by capping appeals and protest hearings to a firm six-month deadline. Currently, the process can take much longer.

           ○     Allowing businesses to use a flexible catering license at one location more than the 24 times allowed under current law. This change will provide restaurants and caterers with the discretion to use their catering license more often, creating a more stable income for their workers and a more consistent revenue source for their business.

           ○     Expediting the approval of new Type 58 catering licenses for existing businesses that already own a different type of alcohol license. Catering licenses give existing businesses additional ways to create revenue through food sales.

●     Creates a new entertainment venue liquor license separate from a regular restaurant license. This new license will be specific to music entertainment venues, removing administrative time and costs that currently exist when a music venue tries to get a liquor license.

●     Authorizes cities and counties to create an open container entertainment zone. This change will allow local governments to authorize outdoor festivals, street fairs, and live-music concerts where people can purchase and consume alcohol, including from surrounding businesses.

SB 314 is a bipartisan bill, co-authored by Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) and Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Adam Gray (D-Merced), Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton), Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage), Bill Quirk (D-Hayward), and Eduardo Garcia (D-Imperial).

“The pandemic hit our restaurants, bars, and music venues like a wrecking ball, and we need to throw these small businesses a lifeline,” said Senator Wiener. “These businesses are part of the fabric of our communities, and they employ so many of our neighbors. SB 314 creates much more flexibility for our hospitality businesses and makes permanent the expanded outdoor dining that so many Californians have grown to love.”