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Later-night dining to be allowed for San Jose restaurants after unexpected crackdown by police

By Wesley Severson - Published on October 23, 2020.

The novel coronavirus does not seem to spread faster late at night. So, why then can’t restaurants that are operating outdoors under the city of San Jose’s Al Fresco Initiative be allowed to serve late at night? Well, now they can, at least until midnight, thanks to a situation involving police and angry restaurant owners at San Jose’s San Pedro Square.

For what many believe no good reason at all, restaurants that are operating in parking lots, on sidewalks, or on closed-off streets under the city’s outdoor dining program known as the Al Fresco Initiative are supposed to close down at 10 p.m. 

No one has really been enforcing the rule until this weekend. Business owners say, randomly, out of nowhere, San Jose police officers showed up on the night of Saturday, October 17, and started enforcing the rule and shutting establishments down.

Several of the downtown restaurants were forced to close and even turn patrons away who were waiting to eat. That cost some of the already struggling restaurants hundreds if not thousands of dollars in lost business.

So why the response from San Jose police? That part remains unclear, but it had restaurant owners knocking on the door of San Jose City Hall on Monday morning asking councilmembers to explain the sudden change in enforcement of the rule.

On Tuesday the 21st the council decided to tweak the rule saying that restaurants operating on closed-off streets or parklets would be allowed to stay open until midnight. Restaurants that are operating outdoors in their own private parking lots or on sidewalks will get new officials rules sometime next week, according to San Jose city officials. 

My question is, why was there a 10 p.m. curfew set for the Al Fresco program in the first place when late-night dining is obviously popular in the South Bay and business owners clearly need every bit of business they can get their hands on? It’s not like the risk goes up at night, so why not just let them stay open as late as they want?

Rachel Kaiser, general manager of the restaurant District, tells the Mercury News that nearly 25% of her business comes after 10 p.m.

San Jose Spokeswoman Elisabeth Handler tells KPIX the city is willing to "alleviate any barriers" to help struggling businesses attract customers, which is why they made the move to extend allowable business hours. 

The city will need to either extend the Al Fresco Initiative, which expires at the end of November, or come up with another solution to allow restaurants to operate in outdoor spaces.

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