Union City’s new outdoor dining standards headed to City Council for approval

UNION CITY, Calif. — The city of Union City has developed new guidelines for restaurants that want to continue serving food outdoors after pandemic-era restrictions are lifted at the end of this month. Among the regulations is the ability for restaurants to convert a small portion of an adjacent parking lot into an outdoor dining space.

On Thursday evening, the Union City Planning Commission unanimously recommended the City Council approve amending the city’s zoning code to allow restaurants to get a permit for one of three different types of outdoor dining setups — sidewalk cafe, a dining area on a public sidewalk; private sidewalk cafe, a dining area on a private sidewalk or plaza like those in a shopping center; and outdoor patio, which is on private land and has more permanent fixtures like roofs and overhangs.

There are operational and design standards that apply to all outdoor dining areas, as well as specific standards and permitting processes for each of the three categories, Brandon DeLucas, an associate planner with the city, told the commission.

Some requirements that apply to all outdoor dining areas include: keeping the area within 15 feet of the outdoor dining space free of litter, operating the space only between the hours of 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on week days, and refraining from cooking or preparing food within the outdoor dining space.

“So you won’t be able to have a barbecue grill or something like that in that area,” DeLucas said, “and that’s for health reasons as well.”

In terms of design, all three types can be enclosed by a barrier, such as fence railings or planters, but the fixtures must be more temporary in nature for the sidewalk cafe since it is in the public right of way and the restaurant must have liability insurance for at least $1 million. The city can revoke its approval for any reason with a 30-day notice.

The sidewalk cafe and private sidewalk cafe must have a minimum of 5 feet of room for pedestrians and people in wheelchairs to comfortably pass in order to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which requires sidewalks to be at least 36 inches in width.

Any restaurant proposing to add permanent features to its outdoor dining space would be subject to the outdoor dining patio standards “because that process is a little more intense” and requires building permits, DeLucas said.

“We want to just make sure that if they’re building that structure, it complies with all the other requirements within our municipal code,” DeLucas said.

The new regulations would also delegate the authority for minor parking lot conversions to the city’s zoning administrator. Restaurants could convert up to 500 square feet, about three parking spaces, of an adjacent parking lot to outdoor dining if it doesn’t impede the flow of traffic for cars or people, DeLucas said. If they wanted to convert more than 500 feet, the zoning administrator would have to make additional findings that the conversion wouldn’t push cars into surrounding neighborhoods in order to approve the conversion.

Regulations surrounding restaurants were relaxed at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, but Gov. Gavin Newsom announced during the past fall that he would be terminating the COVID-19 state of emergency, bringing an end to pandemic-era policies, at the end of this month.

Local jurisdictions, such as Union City and Newark, have passed resolutions intended to end their emergency declarations and policies at the same time, as well as to streamline the process for restaurants that want to continue offering outdoor dining.

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