Sonora outdoor dining

The Diamondback Grill in downtown Sonora has provided outdoor dining service on Lindberg Street through much of the pandemic.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Thursday that the state would allow restaurants and food-serving bars to continue to-go cocktail service and outdoor dining expansions after the planned June 15 statewide reopening.

The announcement drew praise from some locals involved in restaurant businesses, who noted it would allow them to continue revitalizing local tourism and commercial activity in the latter phases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think it's wonderful,” Katie Dunn, president of the Sonora Chamber of Commerce, said. “Any help we can offer our downtown restaurants, they deserve it. They've been one of the industries that have really been hit hard. I think it's fantastic." 

Newsom announced the extension of seven regulatory orders set during the pandemic through the end of the calendar year, specifically citing outdoor al-fresco dining and the to-go cocktails as key to revitalizing neighborhoods. He referred often to parklets, or a sidewalk extension that allows for additional pedestrian space. 

"We want to keep that going," he said. "We're trying to connect those dots. We're trying to take something that really worked in the pandemic."

Newsom characterized the plan as an "opportunity for the entire state" to take advantage of relaxed regulations set by the state Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control earlier in the pandemic. The relaxed regulations were intended to give restaurants and other dining locations the opportunity to serve and maintain business between lockdowns when public health guidelines limited or restricted indoor dining.

Newsom said the state Legislature was debating the finer points of extending some of those provisions to be made permanent. The extension of the relaxed regulations was decided to give the businesses opportunities to continue profitable practices in the interim. 

"I'm very excited for this, and I think this is a good thing for our economic recovery," he said.

Newsom reinforced that localism would guide decisions in some cities and municipalities and that the extensions were not meant to be mandates.  

Sonora City Administrator Mary Rose Rutikanga said a meeting agenda set for Monday was prepared before Newsom's announcement. The council will discuss whether they plan to repeal or extend an urgency ordinance which allows certain outdoor dining operations. 

"We will see what the council says on that," she said.  

Newsom made the announcement at Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant in San Francisco with Mayor London Breed and the California Restaurant Association President and CEO Jot Condie.

Sonora restaurants made use of the relaxed provisions during the pandemic, including Sonora Brewing Co. on South Washington Street. 

"I think it's great,” said owner Thomas Silva. “I think it makes our little town feel more alive. As long as everything falls in line with ABC regulations, I think it's great for downtown.”

Silva was recently approved by the city council for a special event permit to serve beer and wine on Bradford Street next to his business during every Second Saturday beginning in June and during the downtown event Magic of the Night. 

Serafin Pulido, manager at Cazadora Restaurante, took down her outside set-up on Thursday, but said she plans to install outdoor seating to provide for diners who still may be concerned about the virus or if the restaurant fills up. 

"That's really cool," she said. "We're going to keep it then."  

Other businesses such as Emberz Restaurant and El Arroyo made use of to-go cocktails, which was only allowed for restaurants that served food and with a food order. Those same regulations will be maintained at this time. 

Another notable outdoor dining setup was in the Linoberg Paseo next to the Diamondback Grill. 

"From a tourism perspective, outdoor dining is great,”  Lisa Mayo, executive director of the Tuolumne County Visitors Bureau. “I think a lot of people look for that in small towns especially. People that might not feel as safe being inside will feel safer being outdoors."  

Newsom's statement did draw some criticism from his political opponents, who derided the press conference as a "photo-op” in response to a looming recall election.

“California’s restaurant industry suffered more than most under Gavin Newsom’s overbearing shutdowns,” California Republican Party Chairwoman Jessica Millan Patterson said in an emailed statement. “With yet another flashy press conference on his self-promoting Recall Response Tour, Newsom offered little to the nearly one third of California restaurants that permanently closed during the pandemic and two-thirds of employees who at least temporarily lost their jobs," 

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at gricapito@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 588-4526.