Bay Area/ San Francisco/ Politics & Govt
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Published on January 26, 2024
Senator Wiener Proposes "Entertainment Zones" to Boost California Downtowns with Public Drinking AreasSource: Burkhard Mücke, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

To reinvigorate California's city centers, Senator Scott Wiener has put forth Senate Bill 969 (SB 969) to create "Entertainment Zones" that could pave the way for bars and restaurants to serve alcohol in public spaces. Citing the need for economic revitalization post-COVID, the bill seeks to activate downtown areas by capitalizing on outdoor activities and boosting foot traffic. Local establishments could start seeing an uptick in business, paralleling the vibrant street life these zones are designed to foster.

Downtown districts that once bustled now wrestle with the lingering consequences of a global pandemic. "Getting people back out in the streets is key to the economic recovery of cities across California," Wiener said in a statement, advocating for an initiative that both elevates the experience for patrons and offers a financial leg up to local eateries and watering holes. Experiencing the slowest rebound with just 67% of its former foot traffic, San Francisco could use this legislative push to rekindle its economic flame.

Notably, the bill addresses the current restriction under which brick-and-mortar businesses can't enjoy the same privilege as festival booths—selling alcoholic beverages to-go. SB 969 could change that, leveling the playing field at public events and potentially courting an influx of tourists and locals alike. Events like fairs and festivals have been instrumental in recharging local economies, with their success spilling over to support a range of sectors.

The support for SB 969 stretches across several cities, with San Jose and the City and County of San Francisco leading the charge. Mayor London Breed of San Francisco sees "Entertainment Zones" as a creative solution to breathe new life into neighborhoods that have grown too accustomed to the nine-to-five grind. Following San Jose's lead, which has seen the most significant recovery, these zones could inspire a surge in vibrant activity crucial for the survival of small businesses, from bars to barber shops, that hinge on the city's ability to draw crowds.

The potential economic boost is not lost on elected officials or industry advocates. "Entertainment Zones will draw workers back to the office, entice new businesses to lease office spaces, and act as a crucial lifeline to downtown small businesses," remarked Ben Bleiman of CalNight, cited in the bill's announcement.