By Carly Wipf/San Jose Spotlight
SAN JOSE (BCN) -- San Jose leaders want to keep businesses open safely outdoors by extending San Jose's Al Fresco program.
The program has allowed many businesses such as gyms and cafes to move outdoors amid COVID-19 health restrictions. But a rule that allowed businesses to run on city-owned parking lots, streets and parks free of charge is set to expire by the end of the month.
The San Jose City Council will vote Tuesday to possibly extend Al Fresco through Sept. 30, but some are hoping the program will last longer -- or even become permanent.
"We wish it was a longer extension," said Nate LeBlanc, business development manager with the San Jose Downtown Association. "We feel that this has been a great program and we really appreciate the city being flexible with this. It's had a tangible benefit."
He said SJDA is advocating for an extension through December.Even with Santa Clara County this month moving into the less-restrictive orange tier, restaurants can still only seat customers indoors at 50% capacity, making Al Fresco an essential part of recouping lost business.
At a recent city meeting, Rodney Baca, owner of The Shop by Chef Baca, called the program a "huge savior." Local leaders made Al Fresco a top priority, and Mayor Sam Liccardo's budget plan advocated for additional funding to keep it going.
"This extension is needed to keep our restaurants afloat, especially as we enter less restrictive tiers and we're seeing warmer weather," said the mayor's spokesperson Rachel Davis. "While some businesses have received PPP loans, the continued activation of our business corridors is critical to maintaining quality of life for our residents and amenities for our businesses who are returning to work. Continuation of Al Fresco will allow our businesses a greater chance to recover."
Councilmember Dev Davis said she's optimistic the council will eventually make some version of Al Fresco permanent.
"It's a great program," Davis told San Jose Spotlight. "I know that businesses, at least on Lincoln Avenue, have really taken advantage of the opportunity."
Jennifer Echeverri, owner of the local restaurant Habana Cuba, said she had a quick and positive experience applying for Al Fresco. Her one gripe is that she couldn't place as many tables outdoors as businesses whose streets got closed off to traffic.
"As an owner, we didn't get the opportunity to have our street closed," Echeverri said. The program allowed her to add a few tables along a curb traditionally used for parking.
Echeverri, who was struggling to stay afloat in the winter and received a DoorDash grant, said she's seen an influx in business since Santa Clara County moved into the orange tier. The sunshine is providing a glimmer of hope as well, she said. Business has boomed as the weather warms.
"We're feeling a lot better," she said. "Customers are coming in. So we're not all stressed out."
A total of 131 businesses registered to operate outdoors in San Jose through the program, according to a memo by Economic Development Director Nanci Klein.
A dozen businesses got permits to operate on streets temporarily closed to cars. Al Fresco has shut down three streets, one in south San Jose and two in downtown.
Thirty-five businesses received permits for using public sidewalks, a parklet or both. One business is running out of a city-owned parking lot, said Klein.
"The fact that we got it going this summer really helped some of these businesses, not only just survive the pandemic, but have a real chance at kind of maintaining a sense of normalcy, retain employees and give people an opportunity to use our weather -- the best weather in the world," LeBlanc said. "We should be out there enjoying it, especially now that it's springtime."
The San Jose City Council will meet Tuesday at 1:30 p.m. To watch, visit the San Jose YouTube page.
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