Cities Harness Creativity as They Develop Safe Reopen Plans

Jun 30, 2020
Balancing the need to protect public health and stimulate local economic activity has been at the forefront of city leaders’ minds throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. City leaders have been hard at work creating plans for how businesses could safely reopen while remaining fluid and flexible due to changing conditions and state guidelines. 

Mindful of the unique needs of their cities, local leaders worked to streamline permitting, provide grants so restaurants could create more outdoor dining experiences, and ensure businesses have personal protective equipment to keep staff and patrons safe as they reopen. 

In Fresno, even prior to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s June 18 Executive Order that required all Californians to wear a face mask in public, Mayor Lee Brand said that the city would provide 10,000 disposable surgical masks for small businesses to hand out to their customers and 4,000 cloth masks for employees.

“We recognize that many small businesses want to reopen but are unable to provide facial coverings that are essential for everyone’s health and safety,” said Mayor Brand. “Masks and other personal protective equipment are an important part of managing the spread of COVID-19, so it’s important for the city to step up and donate masks to the businesses most impacted by this pandemic so our citizens stay healthy and our economy can get moving again.” 

San Francisco Mayor London Breed rolled out the city’s Shared Spaces Program to assist business by providing flexible use of sidewalks, streets, and other public spaces to serve customers. Under this program, restaurants can use a portion of the public right-of-way, such as sidewalks, parking lanes, streets, or other nearby public spaces like parks and plazas for restaurant pick-up and outdoor dining.

San Francisco restaurants applauded the city’s swift action; “We are grateful to the Mayor and the city for moving so quickly to make the Shared Spaces Program a reality,” said Golden Gate Restaurant Association Executive Director Laurie Thomas. “This entailed a lot of work and coordination between departments. The ability for restaurants to soon seat patrons outside will definitely increase the chances we can survive financially.”

Recognizing that physical distancing will be necessary for the foreseeable future, the City of Sacramento launched an outdoor dining program “Farm to Fork Al Fresco” which created an expedited permit process to allow restaurants to provide more outside dining and allocated $1 million from the federal CARES Act funding to support local restaurants. Eligible restaurants can apply for grants up to $3,000 to pay for expenses related to physical improvements needed for outside dining including barricades, lighting, and dining furnishings.

“It is more important than ever to bring these kinds of opportunities to local small business,” said Assistant City Manager Michael Jasso. “We are pleased to support the variety of restaurants across the city through this effort as we celebrate the diversity that makes our city great.”

Several cities in Northern California including Petaluma, Alameda, Foster City, San Mateo, and Redwood City also restricted or reduced traffic on designated roads so residents would have more space for socially distant exercising. Open streets without traffic are helping provide more space for residents to safely be outside and for businesses to increase their foot traffic while helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

While different regions and industry sectors opened at various times, the desire to safely reopen businesses and provide residents with opportunities to carefully shop, dine, and move about their communities is a common theme guiding city leaders’ decisions. Creative solutions are at the heart of cities’ efforts to put into place new protocols and procedures to prevent further transmission of COVID-19 while setting the stage for a strong local economic recovery.