Outdoor dining is here to stay, and the City of Morgan Hill hopes to continue to make it easier for local restaurants to meet the need.
City officials recently extended the “Al Fresco program” for local restaurants and other businesses for another year, to Dec. 31, 2022. It was set to expire at the end of this year.
The program was implemented by City Hall shortly after the pandemic started in 2020, and gives businesses an “expedited process” to gain permits to use public spaces—such as parking and sidewalks—for outdoor commerce.
Under the Al Fresco program, the city waives fees for encroachment permits for participating businesses, and provides traffic safety devices protecting the outdoor business area. The program has been popular in downtown Morgan Hill, where nine restaurants have transformed the street parking spaces in front of their doors into outdoor dining patios—most surrounded by orange traffic barriers.
City staff explained at the Oct. 20 city council meeting that a one-year extension of the Al Fresco program was recommended because of recent state legislation that also makes it easier for restaurants and bars to operate outdoors. Provisions of the pandemic-related state laws are active for one year after officials lift the statewide Covid-19 public health emergency declaration, which has not happened yet.
The state legislation also allows cities to relax their enforcement of non-safety related guidelines for outdoor commercial service structures on private property.
In a wide-ranging update to the council on the city’s economic development and business recovery efforts, Morgan Hill Economic Development Director Matt Mahood said Oct. 20 that the Al Fresco and Parklet Pilot programs have been “wildly successful” since shortly after the pandemic started.
“Many businesses have used (these programs) to survive and thrive in the Covid environment,” Mahood said.
The council implemented the Parklet Pilot program in 2018, but no businesses showed interest until Covid-19 forced more activity outdoors. Currently, Maurizio’s (on First Street), Noah’s (corner of Monterey Road and First Street) and Mohi Social (1740 Monterey Road) are participating in the parklet program.
Under the parklet program, businesses are required to install more permanent traffic protection barriers and make certain structural improvements to the space. However, the city eased many of these requirements and waived encroachment permit fees due to the pandemic, according to city staff.
Mahood said the potential upcoming Monterey Road Downtown lane reduction and street beautification project could affect the design or size of parklets. The council is scheduled to consider the lane reduction program at the Dec. 15 meeting.
City staff also updated the council on other recent economic development and business recovery efforts at the Oct. 20 meeting. One of the city’s crucial roles has involved reaching out to the business community about grants, loans and other emergency assistance available from state and federal agencies.
“While the impacts on business during the pandemic have been significant and the city’s focus on providing information, tools, and resources has been extensive, the effect is difficult to measure,” says a city staff report.
Through August 2020, more than 290 businesses in Morgan Hill have received more than $3.68 million in assistance funding from the California Small Business Covid-19 Relief Grant Program, Mahood told the council.
City business license data shows that the overall number of businesses continues to rise in Morgan Hill. From April 1 to Sept. 10, 263 businesses submitted new applications for business licenses, while 186 closed or did not renew, says the city staff report. That’s a net gain of 77 new businesses in town.
Mahood listed some of the new businesses that have opened in Morgan Hill since the pandemic started: Chacho’s, Mo’s, Mohi Social, Poki Bowl, F45, Studio 38, Serrano Electric, T&H Manufacturing, Chrysler/Dodge/Jeep/Ram and Airstream.
While the pandemic and related restrictions heavily impacted construction of industrial projects, most that were underway in early 2020 are back on track, according to city staff. Industrial projects currently under construction include Butterfield Technology Park, Shoe Palace, Techcon and De Paul Health Center.