Streets and sidewalks in Bakersfield could look a lot different in the near future.
On Wednesday, the Bakersfield City Council voted to allow restaurants and other businesses to close off streets, sidewalks and parking lots to set up seating and vending areas. The accommodation is meant to allow businesses more room to operate under the state’s new social distancing guidelines.
The vote came on the same day Kern County restaurants and retail shops received the OK to open their doors to customers for the first time since Gov. Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order went into effect. Those businesses that are allowed to reopen, however, must follow strict social distancing and sanitation rules that could cut into their bottom line.
While state guidelines fall short of requiring restaurants to reduce their overall capacity by a specific percentage, workspaces and dining areas must be reconfigured to allow for both workers and customers to be six feet apart. In an industry known for its narrow margins, this could seriously hamper a business’ ability to turn a profit.
“I’m all about it,” said Councilman Andrae Gonzales. “The whole idea is we want as many of our businesses, and especially restaurants, to open again.”
He added that he hoped the new accommodation would allow the public to enjoy Downtown Bakersfield again.
In order to be eligible, businesses must apply to the city for a “COVID-19 Special Event Permit,” which the city will analyze for feasibility. While restaurants and retail stores outside downtown will be able to use parking lots and the sidewalk for extra space, downtown businesses will also be able to set up shop in the street.
In such an instance, the city would close off up to half of a street in order to make room.
“Restaurants, they’re probably going to be all over it. Other businesses, it depends on their footprint and if they are going to be able to do it,” said Councilman Chris Parlier. “Some of it just falls into a little bit of logistical ingenuity.”
The closures must be blocked off using mobile barricades that can be set up and torn down each day. Certain streets will not be eligible for closure, and only up to half of a parking lot may be closed off.
So far, some businesses have expressed interest in taking advantage of the new possibility, Gonzales said.
The ordinance change was added to Wednesday’s meeting as an emergency item and is meant to work hand-in-hand with the state’s recent approval that Kern County can move through Stage 2 at an accelerated pace.
The council unanimously voted for the change as part of the meeting’s consent agenda.
“I think it’s exciting,” Parlier said. “The City Council is always looking for opportunities to support its businesses.”