SANTA CRUZ COUNTY—The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday unanimously approved a proposal to allow restaurants and businesses in the unincorporated areas of the county to use their parking lots for outdoor eating and shopping areas. 

The plan was designed to help ease the burden of Covid-19 restrictions that have shuttered and hobbled many places of business.

“While the Covid pandemic requires that we reduce the amount of people in restaurants and other businesses to ensure that we don’t spread the virus, we should be creative about the way in which we use outdoor space,” said Supervisor John Leopold, who helped write the ordinance.

Under the new rules, businesses can go through an application process that will give them 180 days—with the possibility of extensions—to use parts of their parking lots, county spokesman Jason Hoppin said. 

The county is also waiving permit fees through the remainder of 2020, he said.

With the permits, the restaurants and retail establishments can allow customers to remain at their businesses while practicing social distancing.

“Business owners are under tremendous stress,” they are often operating their businesses full-time because they can’t afford employees,” said Supervisor Ryan Coonerty. “We’re dealing with an emergency situation, and we have to have this be as simple as possible.”

Restaurants that want to offer outdoor alcoholic beverages will need to work with the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, Hoppin said.

The Board also directed the departments of Public Works, Parks and Environmental Health to issue permits that would allow for outdoor dining and other commercial uses on public property, such as sidewalks.

The move reflects a trend seen countywide and nationwide as businesses struggle to recover from the loss of business that came in the wake of the pandemic.

The Capitola City Council on May 28 unanimously approved a plan to allow street-side dining in that city from June through September and to replace the public parking areas adjacent to the restaurants along the Esplanade to outdoor dining. The Capitola City Council also approved a proposal to reopen the parking areas along Cliff Drive and the upper parking lot.

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For local information on COVID-19, visit www.santacruzhealth.org/coronavirus, call 211 or text “COVID19” to 211211. Residents may also call 454-4242 between the hours of 8am and 6pm, seven days a week.