Bill would allow drinking on public streets in designated areas

Imagine a California where you can buy a beer at your favorite bar or restaurant, take it outside, and drink it with a friend on the street. That could soon become a reality if state and local authorities clear the way.

A bill proposed by the California Senator. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) would allow alcohol consumption on public streets in designated tipping zones.

The proposed legislation, Senate Bill 969, would give municipalities and counties the authority starting in 2025 to designate local “entertainment zones” where people could consume “alcoholic beverages on public streets, sidewalks or public right-of-way,” according to the bill.

Wiener says the legislation could help revitalize California’s downtown districts, where businesses have struggled since the pandemic wiped out foot traffic.

“People want to be outside; They want to come together with their community,” Wiener said. “We have very strict alcohol laws in California that sometimes need to be made more flexible.

“This is really about cities being able to decide what works for their public spaces,” he added. “And for some cities, whether downtown, in a city square or on a specific block, they should have the ability to establish an entertainment zone where bars and restaurants can sell both food and alcohol on the street. Let’s enable people to have fun with their friends and neighbors.”

Wiener said the legislation would also be a boon beyond downtown neighborhoods, helping cities and local businesses that have struggled since COVID-19 caused companies to close offices and have employees work from home.

Current laws allow street parties to obtain one-day permits to sell alcohol for consumption on public streets. Wiener believes this should be extended to local businesses.

A University of Toronto study showed that many downtown areas in California are seeing 60% to 90% of 2019 traffic volumes. For downtown Los Angeles, it’s 83%; San Francisco has 67%; and Sacramento is at 66%.

San Francisco and San Jose supported the bill.

“If implemented safely, SB 969 would make it easier for local businesses to host block parties, wine walks and events that bring us all together to advance the vibrant future of our downtown,” San Jose Mayor Matt Mahan said in a statement.

Like any business, the entertainment zones designated by municipalities would have specific days and hours of operation; People would not have the freedom to drink on the streets whenever they want. And California Penal Code Section 647(f) would continue to make it a felony to be drunk in public. State law prohibiting the sale of alcohol between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. still applies to bars and restaurants

Wiener proposed similar laws in 2021 and last year; Both passed the Senate unanimously. But they ran into trouble with the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which blocked the entertainment zone provisions in 2022, then watered them down and limited them to San Francisco County in 2023.

The 2024 bill has not yet been referred to a committee.

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