More commercial businesses, ‘pop-ups’ can operate outdoors with expanded rule

The Berkeley City Council has expanded an ordinance that allows businesses to operate outdoors during the COVID-19 pandemic, which means more retail stores, manufacturers and logistics and warehouse companies allowed under the current local health order can expand their offerings.

Marijuana delivery, liquor stores, smoke shops, gun stores and adult-oriented businesses are still not eligible, but other registered businesses can begin using private property by obtaining a zoning certificate, instead of the usual, longer process for a discretionary permit.

The change also benefits registered businesses that don’t have a physical location, allowing them to set up “pop-up” shops in non-residential areas.

Businesses are required to follow state and local safety guidelines during the pandemic, such as social distancing and mask use. The expansion doesn’t include services like hair salons, which are currently prohibited from opening in Alameda County, even though council members had initially suggested they be added. If the health order expands, the ordinance will also permit those new businesses to operate outside.

Jordan Klein, the former economic development manager for the city who is now interim planning director, said the ordinance provides an “over-the-counter” permit option for businesses that want to begin operating outside. It could also make adjustments easier for business owners if the health order takes a step backward to prevent in-store services.

Restaurants have been offering outdoor dining for over a month now, despite some hiccups and back-and-forths in state rules. Retail shops and others are also offering curbside service and indoor shopping for a reduced number of customers.

“I think it’s possible that some businesses will prefer to move operations outdoors if they can because … both the actual and perceived increase in safety will be attractive to their customers and their employees,” Klein said.

Groups of people at socially distanced tables enjoy outdoor wine tastings at Donkey & Goat in Berkeley. Photo: Sari Blum
Socially distanced outdoor wine tastings at Donkey & Goat in Berkeley. Photo: Sari Blum