Palo Alto extends outdoor dining until July 2026

Feb. 14, 2024, 11:42 p.m.

Many local regulations allowed restaurants to build outdoor dining spaces at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. A new California law AB-1217, effective this year, would allow outdoor dining spaces until July 1, 2026. But the requirements for parklets — outdoor dining in car parking spaces — drew mixed reactions from local restaurateurs.

Due to social distancing regulations introduced in 2020, many restaurants complied with room capacity limits by extending dining services outdoors. In 2020, the City of Palo Alto issued Resolution No. 9987, which allowed restaurants to apply for permits to utilize outdoor spaces for additional dining options. These permits were originally set to expire this July, before they were extended by AB-1217.

Downtown Palo Alto is home to boutique stores, entertainment venues and unique cafes. Four years into the pandemic, outdoor dining has become a vibrant part of downtown’s culture. 

Many restaurant owners voiced support for AB-1217.

According to Marcus Belardes, vice president of operations at Oren’s Hummus, outdoor dining “created a different environment” for customers, who clearly preferred the outdoors.

Oren’s Hummus’ outdoor dining consists of parklets made of wood with a corrugated metal roof, matching the restaurant’s interior design. The restaurant specializes in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food and has six locations scattered across the San Francisco Peninsula.

Belardes is less satisfied with other local requests from the City of Palo Alto. In 2020, the city’s Public Works Department started a pilot that allowed restaurants to use public parking spaces for outdoor dining with no additional fees.

In November 2023, the department established a Permanent Parklet Program that would allow restaurants to permanently use those spaces after applying for a Parklet Encroachment Permit, which would require a fee.

Belardes said the timeline that the Public Works Departments give restaurants to comply with local regulations is challenging. The department requires businesses to remove parklets without permits by Mar. 31.

The Public Works Department wrote to The Daily that the city gave all restaurants the same timeline.

A window with "Zola" written on it in gold text.
Zola + BarZola has parklets that take up three parking spots and house roughly 30 guests. (Photo: CAYDEN GU/The Stanford Daily)

Guillaume Bienaime, owner of Zola + BarZola, said he and many customers are “strongly in favor” of outdoor dining extensions. The restaurant has parklets that take up three parking spots and house roughly 30 guests.

According to Bienaime, the city’s new requirements for parklets are too complex.

“We’re going to have to rebuild our existing parklets, resubmit building permits, rebuild the parklets and then have them for a longer period of time,” Bienaime said.

Saint Michael’s Alley, a restaurant on Homer Avenue, has had a patio since the start of COVID. With the high demand for outdoor dining, the restaurant has decided to add parklets for additional outdoor dining options.

Michael Sabina ’91, owner of Saint Michael’s Alley, said he already designed the parklets and is seeking approval from the city for construction. The parklets will have heaters in them and will only take up two parking spaces. 

“I’m very happy that we live in a place where the weather is beautiful,” Sabina wrote. “Finally people are sitting outside and taking advantage” of the weather.

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