‘Entertainment Zone’ Bill Expanding Outdoor Alcohol Sales Passes Calif. Senate Panel

Scott Wiener’s SB 969 would let cities allow downtown bars and restaurants to serve alcohol outdoors

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A prominent California state senator wants livelier bars and restaurants in the downtown areas of cities across the Golden State — and his goal is inching closer to reality. 

SB 969, proposed by Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco, would allow cities to create “entertainment zones” wherein local bars and restaurants could serve alcohol outside of their premises. The bill, which is endorsed by the City of San Jose, the City and County of San Francisco, and the California Nightlife Association, passed Tuesday via a unanimous vote by the state Senate Governmental Organization Committee. 

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“Activating outdoor spaces is a key strategy for cities to promote vibrancy in their downtown areas, in addition to being a really fun way for people to spend time,” Weiner said in a statement. “Cities should have the ability to create entertainment zones and shouldn’t be restricted by state law. Entertainment zones are an idea whose time has come.”

It’s no secret that downtown areas across the country have struggled since the COVID-19 pandemic, and cities in California are no exception. While economic recoveries differ from city to city, there are only a small number of downtowns in the state that returned to levels of foot traffic from before the pandemic began, according to Weiner’s office. 

The senator’s office points to similar programs in states such as Michigan, Ohio and Virginia that have seen success in revitalizing downtown districts and supporting small businesses as inspiration for the California bill. The office also notes that, under SB 969, cities would be able to customize the entertainment zones to fit their specific needs. 

The bill is now in the court of the state Senate Appropriations Committee for another vote, though it is unclear when that vote may occur. Sen. Weiner’s office could not immediately be reached for clarification.

Nick Trombola can be reached at NTrombola@commercialobserver.com.