Lupolo
Lupolo on Cathcart Street has been a popular downtown al fresco dining and drinking option.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)
Government

Santa Cruz extends expanded outdoor dining through fall 2021, with exception if stay-at-home order kicks in

The Santa Cruz City Council voted Tuesday night to allow businesses to continue expanded operations outdoors until at least October 2021 because of the pandemic. Council members also extended “emergency declarations” for the coronavirus and CZU fires.

Businesses in Santa Cruz can continue expanded outdoor operations until at least October 2021, whether it’s serving diners at sidewalk tables, selling retail wares in the streets or hosting fitness classes in public squares.

Since June, the city has issued 83 permits citywide through the Temporary Outdoor Expansion Program, which the City Council extended on Tuesday night.

The council’s decision ensures that investments made by cash-strapped restaurateurs in outdoor infrastructure won’t be curtailed by a turn back to pre-pandemic regulations — unless Gov. Gavin Newsom’s regional stay-at-home order that bans outdoor dining kicks in.

It’s a move happening both countywide — Scotts Valley enacted a similar measure last week — and nationwide, as COVID-19 continues to wreak havoc on the economy.

Of the 83 permits, 40 were in downtown Santa Cruz, 14 were on the Westside, 12 were in the area of the Wharf and beach, and 8 were on the Eastside. A majority of the permits (76) were for outdoor dining, but others included outdoor fitness, a barber shop, a drive-in comedy show and some retail shops.

Hula’s Island Grill has been a fixture in the community since 2006, but when the pandemic hit, they experienced...

Of the 83 permitted businesses, only two have closed, city Economic Development Director Bonnie Lipscomb said: Rosie McCann’s Irish pub and Oasis Tasting Room on River St.

The ordinance, written by the city’s attorney and staff, purposefully detaches the city program from any emergency health declarations to give business owners more stability when planning for the future. “We don’t know at this time exactly when the local health emergency will be lifted related to the vaccine, but we do know it’s going to take a considerable amount of time for businesses to recover,” she said.

A number of unknowns could affect the rate at which the local economy heals, Lipscomb said. They include whether — or how much — the city might get in federal stimulus money from Congress, as well as the length of a regional stay-at-home order in the weeks to come.

But, at the very least, businesses can now make investments in winter operations because of Tuesday’s council action. Restaurants, for example, can now take steps to “winterize” by adding outdoor heaters, tents and other amenities to make it comfortable for patrons.

“Some of these costs are high and it’s going to take them some time to just recoup that cost on outdoor spaces,” Lipscomb said.

The city council also voted unanimously to extend two “emergency declarations” — for the COVID-19 pandemic and the CZU Lightning Complex Fires — for 60 days, until Feb. 6, 2021.

The declarations clear the way for City Manager Martín Bernal, the city’s default Emergency Services Director, to enact urgent measures in response to the emergencies before receiving council approval.

They also help the city recoup some of the money spent dealing with the emergencies through Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursements and repayments from the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services.