Senator Wiener’s Bills to Allow Outdoor Dining with Alcohol Post-Pandemic and Support Hospitality Businesses Passes Senate Governmental Organization Committee

April 20, 2021

SACRAMENTO - Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)’s legislation, Senate Bill 314 and Senate Bill 793, passed the Senate Governmental Organization Committee with bipartisan unanimous votes of 15-0. SB 314, the Bar and Restaurant Recovery Act, 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). SB 793, the Entertainment Venue Recovery Act, creates a new music entertainment venue license in order to reduce the burden on these venues. Venues must currently conform to the qualifications of a restaurant license, even though many do not fit into that category. The bill will also allow localities to zone for “entertainment zone” open container areas, creating lively spaces for increased business.

Combined with other critical measures, SB 314 and SB 793 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industry bounce back from the devastating impacts of the pandemic, enacting common sense reforms, restructuring outdated laws, and allowing businesses more opportunities to succeed.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 and bars:

  • Allows current licensees with outdoor dining expanded premises under ABC’s emergency relief order a grace period of one year after the emergency order is lifted to apply for a permanent expansion, 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 has allowed restaurants and bars to survive and has been wildly popular with the public, with a more European street life feel.
  • 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, by enabling manufacturers to share a common licensed area with multiple licensed retailers. 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:
    • Allowing businesses to use a catering license at one location 52 times, increasing the  currently allowable limit of 24. 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.
    • Providing an extended period of time for an event to submit their permit application to ABC to 90 days, instead of the 30-day window allowed under current law. This provides a greater level of flexibility for the event planning process, allowing them more time to meet ABC requirements.

SB 314 is a bipartisan bill, with Carlos Villapudua (D-Stockton) and Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) serving as principal co-authors. It is co-authored by Senator Andreas Borgeas (R-Fresno) and Senator Jim Nielsen (R-Red Bluff), and Assemblymembers David Chiu (D-San Francisco), Wendy Carrillo (D-Los Angeles), Phil Ting (D-San Francisco), Adam Gray (D-Merced), Cecilia Aguiar Curry (D-Napa), Chad Mayes (I-Rancho Mirage), and Eduardo Garcia (D-Imperial).

SB 793 will make additional changes to help entertainment venues and other hospitality businesses:

  • 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.

“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.”